Automation: 8 examples for SMEs and digital service providers
Automation can be seen as the next step after digitalisation. And this is by no means only true for industry and production. On the contrary, service providers and SMEs in particular benefit from automated processes. The basic prerequisite for this is that the desired processes already run digitally and can be standardised. If these conditions are met, there is a wide range of possible areas of application. That is why automation examples are also broad and can be adapted individually and flexibly.
So automation in marketing is no longer an insider tip. We constantly receive automatically sent emails, for example as newsletters. Or in logistics, too, we often receive automated emails that inform us about the status of our order. But other areas can be added here: sales, administration, controlling, accounting, communication or even onboarding can be expanded through automation. The following 8 automation examples from some of our past projects should give you an idea of what is conceivable and feasible.
What is meant by process automation?
If digital processes run independently and without (much) human interaction, we speak of process automation. In very simplified terms, this is achieved by passing data from software to software. These data flows are shaped by conditions and predefined triggers and thus run recurrently, stably and quickly. This is possible via programming interfaces, so-called APIs. These are provided by the software. An automation tool can then connect the data arriving at this interface with another application. This is how automated workflows are created.
All that is needed are automation platforms. These offer an interface on which apps and tools can be "plugged together". Actions, triggers, filters and conditions are defined. This ensures that the process really does what you want it to do. Best of all, these platforms usually require little to no programming knowledge. Tools such as Make or Zapier want to make automation possible for the masses and therefore rely on intuitive interfaces rather than complicated code.
What you can imagine by such automatic data flows, we clarify in the following 8 automation examples:
What can be automated?
Generate and provide documents
CRM - Communication
E-commerce data transfer
Automation Example #1: Automate quotation creation flexibly and individually - yet standardised
The first example of automation directly creates standardisation where you might not expect it. And that is in the preparation of offers. For services, this process is usually very time-consuming. First of all, the customer's requirements have to be recorded, possibly consulted again, times estimated or price lists rummaged through. All this is necessary to come up with a tailor-made offer in the end. But it can also be simpler:
Many offers are composed of recurring building blocks. If these modules are defined with the associated pricing, then an offer is much more like the composition of the appropriate modules. This is what happened for a client company in the financial sector. Here, the advisors use a form (in Wordpress) to fill out which services the clients want. When this form is sent, the process starts: the selected fields are linked to text modules and prices. These are assigned to the selection from the form.
In addition, the offer is filled with the relevant information about the company and the persons. The document is then either sent to the advisors for processing. Or it is prepared directly for digital signature. For this purpose, the relevant persons receive an e-mail with a request for signature. This can be done digitally and a legally effective offer is created in a few minutes.
Automate communication on the basis of the CRM and thus support your sales department
In a long sales funnel, communication is everything. When a lot of consultation with your prospects is needed to close a deal, it's easy to lose track. Even more so when different team members can get in touch. Here an email, there a data query, in between an info phone call. In the worst case, a person is forgotten or lost and never hears from you again.
That's why the next automation example is a must if you use a CRM that many of your employees access: Because the communication at the beginning of your sales is often very recurring. Based on different statuses assigned to your customers in the CRM, different emails (or even Slack messages, SMS or similar) are sent. If a lead interacts with it, for example by filling out a form, then this update is also synchronised with the CRM.
Standard emails are automatically generated and sent, your employees always see the current status in the CRM and can use this to perfectly tailor individual communication. This way you receive all the necessary information and your customers have a unique and personalised onboarding experience.
Generate reports automatically according to specified times
Especially if you work on a project basis, you probably know how much time can go into necessary reporting. All the data has to be collected, maybe a data entry was forgotten somewhere and of course the whole thing not only has to look good but also serve its purpose. Nothing is more annoying than a painstakingly created report that no one looks at in the end.
We solved this challenge for a client company for organisational development. We integrated the existing project management tool in such a way that a report is automatically created every Friday and communicated simultaneously on the intranet. To do this, we collect the existing data from the PM, structure it, calculate defined KPIs in a Google Sheet and then output this Google Sheet in the form of graphics and tables.
This reporting shows the management where the current projects stand and the team which projects are currently running and how well. The whole process takes only a few seconds. This automation example shows perfectly how much time can be saved every week through well thought-out integrations.
Automatically make important documents available for digital signature
Besides the offers mentioned in the first automation example, there are many more documents in your company that need to be signed recurrently. The best example is the documentation for new employees. In addition to an employment contract, numerous other documents may be necessary: personnel questionnaires, consent forms, information sheets, data protection agreements, home office policies and so on. It can happen that one person has to sign up to 10 documents.
Often, however, the only adjustment is the insertion of the name, date and possibly other master data such as address or date of birth. That is why this process is also perfectly suited for automation. This is exactly what we are currently implementing for a client company. By filling out a digital personnel questionnaire, we receive all relevant data. On the one hand, this generates a document for the HR department, and on the other hand, the relevant data is temporarily stored.
In the next step, the necessary documents are filled in and transferred to a software for digital signatures. There, both the authorised persons on the employer's side and the employees can sign. Afterwards, the data is deleted wherever it is no longer to be stored.
Onboarding new employees is a universal process that affects almost all companies. There are recurring documents that are the same for all team members and must be available at fixed times. That's why the process is perfect as an automation example. If you want to know more, you can find out more about automated onboarding here.
Automatic data transfer from your online shop to the CRM
E-commerce is booming. Not just since Corona. Software such as Shopify or WooCommerce (tools) also make it easier for SMEs without the capacity for an individual shop solution to operate their own store. These tools often come with an interface. This is exactly what we need for the next automation example.
You probably want to synchronise important information from your shop with your CRM: Invoices, products, customers, suppliers, credit notes or orders. This doesn't have to be done manually. By integrating your shop software with your CRM, all this will run automatically in the future.
This example also shows how flexible cloud automation is: we can connect a variety of shop tools such as Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento with another variety of CRMs, for example Pipedrive, Hubspot, Zoho or Salesforce. In this way, you create the IT infrastructure that suits your business. Not the other way around.
Automated databases at the core of your IT
Databases. The bad word with a D. At least for some. They can quickly become so complex that only a few people even understand what is going on. Not to mention that usability often suffers as a result. Although numerous functions can be mapped, only a few people have an overview of them. But if your company works with a central database, it should not only fulfil its purpose, but also be usable.
And that is exactly what Airtable offers. Airtable is a mixture of database and spreadsheet and can also map complex dependencies. In addition, Airtable offers integrated automations, such as automatic e-mails or calendar entries. With Make or Zapier, even more actions can be mapped. The best thing about Airtable: each individual cell can be controlled individually and at the same time act as a trigger for a process.
For example, buttons can be used to trigger the sending of an automatically generated e-mail. Or another button automatically generates an offer that is sent ready to be signed. Or a calendar event is generated automatically. In this way, you can use Airtable to map a wide range of functions such as project management, CRM, contact maintenance, offer creation or warehouse management.
What also convinces us is the simple interface of Airtable: it is intuitive and understandable. You don't need a three-day course for your team to be able to navigate through the database with the constant fear of destroying the entire database. For this reason, Airtable is used in almost all of our projects.
Automated interview preparation for coaches
Admittedly, this next automation example is quite individual. But that's exactly our point: we want to show that automation can support almost any process. This is also the case for a customer who offers individual coaching sessions via her website. There, the coachees can book an appointment directly with their preferred coach.
To prepare for the initial interview, some questions and tasks are asked. For this, it is necessary for the coachees to make a rather long audio recording of themselves. Quite long means about one hour. This information is valuable for the coach's interview preparation. However, instead of listening to the whole audio recording, pausing, taking notes, rewinding and thus spending twice the time just for preparation, automation shortens this process.
After the audio recording, the audio file is not simply sent by e-mail. In an intermediate step, the recording is first automatically transcribed. This transcript together with the original recording is then made available to the coaches. In this way, the preparation for the interview can proceed in a targeted and efficient manner.
There are really numerous automation examples for accounting. Whether it's automatic data transfer, automatically generated invoices, credit notes or contact synchronisation with your CRM, accounting has a lot of potential. The best thing is that accounting is often highly standardised and recurring. So it's no wonder that this process is one of our most requested. We have already written a detailed blog post on automated bookkeeping here.
The integration of various applications is conceivable: lexoffice, bexio, fastbill, easybill or even sevDesk can all be connected. Of course, everything is fully legally compliant.
Automation examples are diverse and individual
The previous automation examples are actually always about connecting software that you already use today. This is also the core of process automation. This is how we create data flows that always provide important information at the right time and in the right place. And the possibilities for this are really diverse. From very specific and only applicable for your industry to universal and relevant for every company. The core is interfaces and cloud applications.
If you haven't found anything in this list of automation examples that applies to your company, don't worry. We are optimistic that we can also identify potential for you and that you can support your processes with automation. Together we will find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.
Cloud Integration, iPaaS, SaaS, BPA… Ough, hard to keep track of all these terms. They are currently used frequently (and increasingly) in the context of automation, and it is sometimes difficult to make a clear distinction and distinction. We have already written blog posts on the terms iPaaS, SaaS and BPA, but we’ll take them up again here to make the difference.
But let’s start with cloud integration, because that’s the central umbrella term in which we embed all the other technologies in this blog post.
To illustrate these advantages, an example is suitable that we know well from our everyday work as an automation agency:
The central data to be used here is the data of a major customer. This can be the simplest information, such as the address. This address is required in numerous but completely different processes in the company: on the one hand, for correct invoicing in accounting. On the other hand, in the CRM system, where all the data of the large customer is also stored. But the address is also important in sales, for example, when employees go to the sales meeting on site.
Now the customer announces that the address of the company has changed after a move. This information will reach you by e-mail. There are now two options:
01. The e-mail is forwarded to all affected departments, accounting, sales, customer service, marketing… All persons open their corresponding program, CRM, accounting software, marketing tools (such as newsletter marketing) and change the data already stored there of the customer. This means that in multiple applications, different people do exactly the same thing: change one address. 02. But there is also an alternative: By connecting your applications, thus by integrizing them, the customer’s e-mail, or rather the information it contains about the address change, is automatically passed on to all affected applications: CRM, accounting, marketing, ERP. This does not require any clicks, because the cloud integration detects a trigger, i.e. address change, and thus automatically starts the process.
What sounds unimpressive in a single process becomes more effective when such a process occurs several times a day or weekly. Because there is a lot of data that is available in different applications and should always be correct. If these applications are cloud applications they are suitable for cloud integration.
But cloud integration doesn’t just happen. There are now a variety of applications that enable and implement this. Such tools usually allow us to link the relevant cloud applications on a central platform and define clear rules on when, how, where, how much data should be passed on and what happens to them.
IPaaS, SaaS, BPA, ABC – who can still see through it?
To realize cloud integration, there are various applications and technologies that are sometimes used interchangeably.
Cloud integration cannot be done without SaaS, iPaaS and BPA
Cloud integration is rather an umbrella term that includes numerous technologies, such as SaaS, iPaaS and BPA, and this is also absolutely necessary. Cloud integration is a concept that is made possible by appropriate technologies.
However, all terms share the commonality that they are cloud-based and thus offer enormous potential for growth and scaling. In addition, they are often cheaper to implement and maintain because changed requirements are easy to implement.
As an independent automation agency, we implement cloud integration according to your requirements. We use a variety of SaaS tools and iPaas (strictly speaking BPA) software. Together we find individual solutions that are flexible and scalable.