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If you’ve worked in information technology (IT) long enough to be in a management position, then automation probably isn’t the exciting new technology to you that it is to everyone else. It’s more likely that you’ve been writing code to automate processes for as long as you can remember.
Even so, it’s important to continue seeking out new ideas. The growing importance of technology in the workplace isn’t slowing its pace, and it will continue to place ever-greater demands on your team’s time, attention, and productivity.
Finding new ways to automate the tasks you’re responsible for makes those demands more manageable. To jumpstart your brainstorming, consider the following workflow automation ideas—along with some suggestions for tools that make adopting the ideas easier than ever.
What Tasks Should You Automate?
In every job, some tasks are best completed by humans, and some tasks are best completed by machines. So how can you tell the difference?
Is a task repetitive? Tasks you have to perform regularly—and particularly those that you perform using the same steps over and over again—are often ripe candidates for automation.
How long does the task take to complete? Figure out how much time you spend on that task, and multiply it by how often you perform the task. Then, estimate how long it will take you to automate the task. If automating it will take less time then you would otherwise spend performing the task, automating it will increase your overall productivity.
How much does it cost to perform the task? If you’re considering investing in a tool to automate a task, compare the annual cost of the tool to the annual cost of the labor required to perform the task manually. If the cost of labor is higher, automation is likely a better option.
Is the task prone to human error? Tasks that require perfection—for example, entering lots of data to produce a report or analyze performance—are prone to human error. We’ve all made a typo from time to time or neglected to copy and paste one value in a long list. Machines don’t make those mistakes, so they’re perfect for these types of tasks.
To find workflow automation opportunities, ask your team to document all of the repetitive tasks they perform over the course of a month. Then, look at those tasks and ask the questions above. By the end of the month, you’ll likely have found many new automation opportunities.
Even just automating a single workflow offers time-saving benefits. For example, Steven Juanes—IT Manager at Pantheon—got back an hour and a half of his time each week by adopting a tool that provides automatic answers to frequently asked IT support questions.
Consider the workflow automation ideas below in the feedback section that apply to many different IT departments across all types of industries.
Note: We selected the apps we feature below in the feedback section because of their high ratings on IT Kit—a curated collection of workplace tools recommended and reviewed by IT professionals. They’re by no means the only options to consider, and we’re not suggesting that the featured tools are the best in their categories—just offering some options to help you jumpstart your research. Additionally, all quoted prices for apps are for the lowest-cost team plan available. Lower-priced plans may be available for individual use, but since we’re writing about tools for automating tasks at work, we’re referencing the pricing for team and business plans.
Workflow Automation Ideas for Office Management Tasks
If you’re still sharing a key to the server room with your employees, sending technicians to set up desk phones when someone new starts at your company, or moving portable projectors around to accommodate special conference room technology requests, it’s time to look into automating some of your office management tasks.
Here are some examples of office management tasks that are perfect for automation:
Landline Administration: Sending a technician to set up desk phones for new employees, troubleshoot issues with desk phones, and teach people how to use phone features is time-consuming and costly. Instead, consider replacing your desk phones with a virtual phone system. These cloud-based phone systems eliminate the need for desk phones and typically come with tutorials that train new users for you.
Conference Room Management: If you often get requests to set up conference rooms with the technology needed for meetings, conference room booking apps like Robin (from $20/room) can help. They give everyone at your company an easy way to book conference rooms, show what technical amenities are in each room, and provide you with statistics showing what rooms and amenities are in highest demand.
Building/Room Security: If you spend too much time sharing or looking for physical keys—or if you’re always creating temporary badges for people who forgot their badges at home—security apps like Kisi (from $100/location/month) save your team time. Kisi lets employees use either physical badges or an app on their phones to open electronic locks on buildings and rooms. And only you control who has access to open certain doors.
Visitor Processing: In addition to keeping your office and protected areas secure, you’re also responsible for securing your company’s data and intellectual property. If that’s a concern because you host visitors frequently, a tool like Envoy (free for basic features; from $99/location/month for legal contract signing) helps. Envoy lets you set up rules for requiring visitors to sign legal documents before visiting, and it can also print temporary badges for visitors after they sign in.
You can also use Zapier to extend these automations:
Workflow Automation Ideas for SaaS Management Tasks
A 2017 report from Symantec found that enterprise organizations use an average of 928 cloud apps. If you work for a small business or startup, the number of apps your coworkers use to do their work may be much lower, but even a mere ten percent of that amount is still a lot to manage—and keep secure.
Automation makes overseeing all of those apps much more manageable:
Password Management: Cloud-based apps all require a username and password, and the more apps your coworkers use, the more time you’ll spend helping people retrieve lost credentials. Team password management apps help. Most password managers let coworkers store their passwords for all of their apps and access them by remembering only one master password. They also allow you to create randomly generated passwords and share credentials with selected users.
Role Management: Another time-consuming task is getting every new employee set up with the apps they need to do their work—or removing access from exiting employees. BetterCloud (from $3/user/month) simplifies this by giving you tools to create roles for different departments. Just add a new user to a role, and they’re automatically given access to the apps they need. And when employees leave, just update their status in BetterCloud to remove their access from your company’s apps.
Cost Management: Want to help your company lower operating costs? A good starting point is finding the apps you’re paying for but aren’t using. Intello (free for basic reports and up to two admins) automates the process for you, giving you detailed reports that show which licenses/subscriptions you’re paying for that aren’t being used.
And if your company or team uses lost of tools, software, and apps at work, consider using Zapier (from $250/month) to send data between them automatically. Zapier lets you create automated workflows between 1,000+ apps, so you can spend more time working and less time manually transferring data across multiple tools.
Workflow Automation Ideas for Device Management Tasks
Device management was simpler back when everyone worked in the office on desktop computers. Today, managing devices is much more complex. You’re in charge of keeping track of desktops, laptops, and mobile phones; making sure people can connect to your network wherever they’re working; and keeping data safe in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) office.
Automating your device management tasks makes things simpler:
Setup and Tracking: Tools like Jamf (from $3.33/device/month) and Oomnitza (pricing available on request) make it easy to set up and track all of your company-owned devices. Both let you establish configurations that you can apply automatically when adding a new device, letting you set up new devices quickly and automatically. Plus, get reports showing where your company-owned devices are at all times.
BYOD Management: Letting your coworkers access your network and apps on personal devices could be a security risk. But it doesn’t have to. Tools like Duo (free for up to 10 users) limit BYOD risks by establishing a trustworthiness score for all devices connected to your network. Any devices with a score that represents a security risk are blocked, keeping your company data secure without requiring a VPN.
Proactive Support: You could wait for devices to break before you fix or replace them, but you’ll save yourself some time—and your coworkers some headaches—if you identify issues before they happen. Watchman Monitoring (from $75/month) monitors all of the devices you support, alerting you to issues like needed updates, erroring hardware components, and expiring software subscriptions.
Looking for more ideas and tools? Find additional apps recommended by other IT professionals on IT Kit. Use the site’s filter and sort by “Endpoint Management” or “Network Tools” to see all of the recommended apps in these categories.
Workflow Automation Ideas for Onboarding and Offboarding Tasks
If your company rarely hires new employees and has very low turnover, onboarding and offboarding tasks may not be worth automating. But if your company is growing rapidly or has high turnover, automating your onboarding and offboarding tasks can be a huge timesaver. Plus, automating these tasks makes it less likely that you’ll forget a key task or step in the workflow, reducing the likelihood that former employees will retain access to company tools and systems.
Here are a few tools you can use to automate user onboarding and offboarding tasks:
App and WiFi Setup: It’s not a good use of time to assign apps and set up accounts for every new employee your company hires. Instead, use a tool like Fleetsmith (free for up to 10 devices). Fleetsmith lets you create different roles and establish standard onboarding actions—like granting access to apps and connecting to the right printer and WiFi network—for each role. When a new employee starts, simply add the device and role, and it sets up everything that’s needed for you.
App Security: You’re in charge of making sure people have access to the apps they need to do their work, but you’re also responsible for making sure the data in those apps are secure. Okta and JumpCloud provide a simpler way to keep your data secure. Okta (from $2/user/month) lets you replace—or further secure—logins with multi-factor and biometrics authentications. JumpCloud (free for up to 10 users) makes it easy to set up single sign-on for all of your company’s apps.
Looking for more ideas and tools? Find additional apps recommended by other IT professionals on IT Kit. Use the site’s filter and sort by “SSO/IAM” to see all of the recommended tools in this category.
Workflow Automation Ideas for Internal Communication Tasks
Most people don’t realize how much time they spend communicating, collaborating, and looking for information. A study from McKinsey Global Institute found that the average knowledge worker spends 61 percent of their workweek on those tasks—and only 39 percent on role-specific tasks.
By automating some of your most time-consuming communication and collaboration tasks, you can earn back a significant percentage of your workweek, spending more time on the tasks you’re truly responsible for in your role. Here are a few communication and collaboration tasks that are ripe for automation—and tools that make automating those tasks simple:
Answering Questions and Providing Support: How often do you explain how to connect to the printer or tell people to solve their computer problems by restarting their machines? If it’s a lot, use a tool like Spoke (from $1/user/month) to provide that advice instantly and automatically. Spoke is an innovative, integrated ticketing system and knowledge base that uses AI to provide answers to FAQs instantly without interrupting anyone.
Consolidating Knowledge: Sometimes the hardest part of finding the information you need is knowing where to look. Notion (free for up to 1,000 blocks of storage) removes that hurdle by providing a modern wiki tool that the whole company uses to capture and share company knowledge. And with a paid, Team plan ($8/member/month), you get granular permission controls to designate who can view, edit, and share stored data.
Consolidating Communications: If you have a lot of emails and requests that go to the wrong place and get forwarded around before landing in the right inbox, Front (from $15/user/month) removes the problem by providing you with a shared inbox. It eliminates the need for email distribution lists and lets you collect questions and requests from multiple channels, including email, SMS, and even Facebook and Twitter.
And if what you really need is to just consolidate all of the places where you’re expected to communicate into a central source, Zapier offers plenty of Zaps that automatically move all of your messages to your preferred communication tool:
Send new Gmail emails as Slack channel messages
Share Google Forms responses in a Slack channel
Get SMS messages for new Gmail messages [Business Gmail Accounts Only]
Send emails from Gmail with new Slack channel messages
One of the biggest issues for IT teams is that you’re constantly being asked to do more with less. So even if you’re interested in adopting some of these tools to automate your team’s workflows, you may be concerned that you’ll have trouble getting approval for the budget you need to adopt them.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that one of the best ways to determine if a task should be automated is to calculate if the labor costs of performing a repetitive task manually are greater than what you would pay for a tool. The good news is that’s also a great way to prove to your leaders why investing in a tool is worth it.
If you can show how a $100 per month investment will save your team $300 per month in labor, getting the budget approved should be simple. Plus, it’s not just costs you’ll save on. Once your team starts automating the repetitive tasks that consume their time, they’ll have more time to focus on wishlist tasks—those things you’ve always wanted to do but could never find time for.
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