In this third part of the series about applying automation routines to your business processes, I will shed some light on the tools that can be used for automation. When choosing an application for your business, it is very important to consider how it integrates with your existing apps, or even new apps that you may use in the future. Therefore, I am going to discuss how automations basically work and I’ll address the tools that can be used to automate such business processes.
In the first part, I had provided a more general perspective, talked about what business automation is and what it does. I also disclosed how any entrepreneur – even the least tech-inclined ones – can gain something from it: be it freeing up time, showing expertise or raising credibility. In the second part, I showcased with an in-depth example of the process of generating leads, how applying automation to a mundane business routine can free up valuable time for your business.
A short historical synopsis
The automation of business processes has become increasingly popular in the last two to three years. This development was fostered by the emergence of automator services that connect single web applications with each other. What they do is, basically provide connectors between interfaces of two web services. Such an interface is called an API, which stands for Application Programming Interface. Its task is to declare how it wants to be communicated with.
So for example, let’s assume there is a web service (e.g., an online calendar) that opens its “doors” (=interface) and allows another software application (e.g., an invoicing software) to communicate with it. By doing so, the online calendar provides an API that tells every potential integration how it wants to be talked to. It declares what elements of the calendar can and cannot be accessed.
Let me illustrate that a little further:
An online calendar is widely used by professionals who want their clients to be able to make appointments online. It therefore, would be safe to assume that elements like the weekday and the appointment time would be elements to be accessed. If the online calendar is then, for example, connected to an invoicing software, the invoicing software would receive the weekday-element and time-element from the online calendar, and thus, can create invoices based on this data.
With the development of business automations, a handful of automation services have emerged that enable users to integrate all kinds of web services. They all have one thing in common: they take advantage of public APIs to enable task automation. What makes them different however, is the range of applications they provide for connectors, and of course their pricing policies.
Some of these tools are free to use, but most come with a price attached to it. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth mentioning that most offer some kind of beginner level where access is free for limited usage should you be on a budget. Also, the included features in their plans, as well as the array of applications they offer integrations for differ widely. Some, for instance, specialize in tools that enable small and mid-sized businesses to automate boring tasks and increase productivity. Another’s main focus is on providing automation rules to physical devices (like cars, wearables or home appliances), while another one places emphasis on the security aspect when applying connections.
“There is a spectrum between do-it-yourself and full-robot-revolution.”
As the business of automation services is still in its development stage, it can be expected that in the next years, inventions will be made that will make these processes easier and even more widely accepted.
Here’s a list of automator services (in alphabetical order) I know of:
- Azuqua – tool for business process integration. $$.
bip.io– an open source web automation tool. Free. – Note: bip.io has been acquired by wot.io.
- DSYNC – tool for IT consultants to map and transform data between systems, specializes for financial institutions and enterprise retailers. $$.
- Elastic.io – an integration platform that emphasizes security. Free & $$.
- IFTTT – easy to use cloud integration platform that offers a significant amount of IoT devices. Free.
- Flow XO – connects your cloud apps into automated workflows. Free & $$.
- Geekier – open source project that helps developers to integrate their apps to multiple services. Not suitable for non-tech inclined people. Free.
- Myddleware – an open source tool that lets you synchronize and automate data flows between applications. Free & $$.
- OneSaaS – business-oriented integration provider. $$.
- PieSync – focuses on contact synchronization between multiple apps. $$.
- PipeMonk – focuses on integrations for accounting services. $$.
- proces.io – web application in beta phase, that helps companies to automate their workflows. Free & $$.
- Segment – collects data from any device or platform and forwards it to specified integrations. Free & $$.
- StackStorm – open-source event driven automation tool. Free.
- Skyvia – an integration platform for business applications. Free & $$.
- Wappwolf – an automator service that specializes in popular cloud storage applications: Dropbox, GoogleDrive, Box. Free & $$.
- WeWiredWeb – a web app and device integration tool. $$.
- Workato – community-based automation tool. Free & $$.
Yahoo Pipes– a powerful composition tool for aggregating, manipulating, and mashing up content from around the web. Not suitable for non-tech inclined people. Free. – Note: Yahoo Pipes got terminated in October 2015
- Zapier – currently the most popular integration platform for small and mid-sized businesses. They offer a unique set of apps that is constantly being extended. Free & $$.
“The point of automation is to remove the need to ‘remember’ things.”
Web apps with in-built integrations
It is good to know of and to have these automator services available, but they aren’t always necessary. Many of the web applications used by businesses already offer integrations. I know I said it before, but I’m saying it again: when choosing a software application on the web nowadays, it is really important to verify whether it integrates with other applications, or has at least an API so that integration platforms can access it.
I am absolutely sure that in the next couple of years, we will see this trend of business automation exploding, and the question will no longer be “why to automate?”, but “why can’t this be automated?”
How do you find a tool that offers integrations?
If, for example, you are on the lookout for a tool that can help you with your tasks and projects, you would first make a list of suitable tools.
Popular project management web applications are for instance: Asana, Basecamp, Beesy, Brightpod, Producteev, Todoist, TodoZu, Toodledo, or Wrike – just to name a few.
In a second step, you would visit their homepage and carry out an evaluation as to whether the interface and described features do suit your requirements for a project management tool at all. Some of the tools on your list will be removed now. For the remaining tools, you should take a closer look to see whether integrations are offered and if these integrations target any of the tools you are already using.
I ran a few quick searches and found integrations for these project management tools:
While Asana offers quite a lot of integrations to other web apps, Producteev provides only very few options. However, as the integration platform Zapier can be connected to Producteev, there will be hundreds of possibilities to integrate with other tools. The same is true for Basecamp, which additionally is accessible via WeWiredWeb.
Wrike, on the other hand, provides many integrations itself and is connectable via Zapier and WeWiredWeb to hundreds of other software tools.
Over to you
Now that you have verified the basic availability of integrations of a project management application, you will want to check if you are using any of them already. Your use of integrations is largely dependent on where you are in your business.
Whether you have just started and aren’t using many tools yet, or you are using some already, but are more into perfecting and streamlining your processes, your approach will be different.