Business Automation Basics - How to Approach Choosing Applications

By Jamie T. on September 23, 2021

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This is the fourth article in our ongoing series on business automation.

If you’ve been following our previous articles, you know how to identify a business problem you want to solve, vet it with your stakeholders, and outline your automation in detail.

Now, you’re ready to select an app (or apps) to use for your automation.

As you’ve probably already discovered, there’s a whole universe of options out there. To help filter down your choices, use this three-step process to identify the type of apps you may need.

Determine if a single off-the-shelf product will meet your needs.

This is by far the easiest (and sometimes the most cost-effective) solution. If you’re experiencing a common business challenge, vertical-specific business software often provides a great solution.
These applications offer numerous advantages. They’re often quick to setup and easy to use, since they are already designed to support specific business problems out of the box. Look for products with a proven track record, great support, and an active user community.

Some useful off-the-shelf apps we use include:

  • Zendesk to manage customer interactions
  • Xero to streamline accounting processes
  • Slack to better organize our team’s communication

If you can’t find a single product that meets your needs, however, you may need to fill in the gaps by integrating multiple applications.

Consider connecting multiple apps.

The low-code/no-code universe is built for effectively and efficiently connecting different apps. Organizations regularly use this approach to speed their automation efforts and get systems working rapidly.

This approach can eliminate the need for custom development, while still offering a higher degree of customization than is possible with a single off-the-shelf application.

Not all products support integrations with other applications, so be sure to understand the abilities and limitations of the ones you’re considering. Some offer direct integrations with other apps, like how Cognito Forms integrates with Stripe, Square and PayPal, which may be easier to maintain.

Others may be connected through integration platforms, like Zapier, Microsoft Power Automate and Integromat. These platforms enable users to share data and trigger actions in one application based on an event that occurs in another, and support connecting hundreds of different cloud apps.

A simple example of this would be connecting a contact form to Salesforce and MailChimp. Every new form entry can then create a new customer in Salesforce and new email address in MailChimp. And these integrations can be set up in just a few minutes without using code.

Such integrations also can be brittle. Connection points can break based on server outages, application updates or other causes. So, while app integrations can streamline your work, you’ll want to keep the number of integrations as low as possible, document them, and make sure you know how to quickly update them when the need arises. This will reduce the time and effort you have to invest in maintaining your integrations.

Explore no-code/low-code app building platforms.

If you can’t find an off-the-shelf solution (or combination of solutions) for your needs, it’s time to consider building one yourself.

For this, you’ll want to explore the world of no-code/low-code app-building platforms (hint, hint, like Cognito Forms).

These platforms enable you to create custom solutions and workflows, often using a drag-and-drop builder or other visual interface. While some light coding may be required when creating more advanced functions, don’t let that intimidate you. These tools often have support content and tutorials online, as well as customer service experts who can help you work through the basic coding required.

Because these apps can vary significantly in scale and price, you may want to sign up for a free trial of a few different platforms. Send a question to their customer service team. And see which one you’re most comfortable using.

And if you’d like a more in-depth look at how to evaluate the individual apps you’re considering for your project, we’ll cover that in our next article.


Jamie

Jamie is co-founder of Cognito Forms, an online form builder for organizations seeking to quickly and easily connect with their customers. In his free time, Jamie loves spending time with his wonderful wife and kids, training for triathlons, camping with boy scouts, singing in the choir, and trying out the latest gadgets.