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Automate Everything: The Ultimate Guide to Task Automation

The digital transformation movement is driving leaders to modernize business activities and processes using innovative technology. Robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and predictive analytics are just a few of the digital technologies that are significantly impacting our society. These modern technological advances make automation possible by removing the human factor from the workflow. Initially, advanced technology was able to replace menial tasks with automation, but as the technology progresses, so does its ability to automate more complex activities. Practical task automation using advanced techniques can be found in every industry sector.

In this article, we’ll explore the application of technology to automate repetitive tasks that traditionally require human intelligence.


What Is Task Automation?

Task automation is the application of modern technology to minimize or eliminate the need for human involvement in order to complete a task. We experience many forms of task automation in our everyday lives: airport check-in kiosks, ATMs, fast food ordering, prescription refills, and subscription services. These automations have eliminated the human element from at least one step in the process. For example, checking in at the airport previously required all passengers to stand in a line in order to obtain a boarding pass or drop off baggage. Today, these tasks are automated by technology: Boarding passes can be printed at home, obtained using an airport kiosk, or even displayed on your cell phone. In many cases, all human intervention has been eliminated from the retrieval of boarding passes and baggage handling.

Chatbots are another form of task automation readily available for personal and business use. Support chatbots are available on business websites to answer user questions or guide a user through a process. Skill chatbots may be used at home to automatically turn on lights or adjust thermostat settings, and personal assistant chatbots, such as Amazon Alexa and Siri, have become quite popular and offer an impressive range of capabilities.

Cell phones, tablets, and other smart devices can also leverage task automation apps. One popular app, IFTTT (If This Then That), gets other apps and devices to talk to each other. For example, if you are tagged in a Facebook post, IFTTT can automatically Tweet the same post.


How to Automate Business Tasks

Business professionals spend countless hours performing tasks that can easily be automated with the right technology. Below are three tips for getting started with business task automation:

  1. Research the latest in AI and machine learning (ML). The tools available, along with the constant innovations made to AI and ML, will prepare you for task automation. Chatbots, for example, utilize knowledge base content — therefore, building an intelligent knowledge base will prepare you for future automation.

  2. Document or create processes in order to identify tasks that can be automated, specifically repetitive activities in which automation will improve the customer experience.

  3. Select technology solutions that will replace mundane tasks, so your staff can focus on more revenue-generating and worthwhile activities. For example, tools such as Hootsuite allow you to schedule social media posts in advance, so you don’t have to manually post every day.

The goal is to automate whatever you can, allowing staff to focus on more valuable activities.


Ten Business Tasks You Can Automate Today

One common misconception is that task automation results in staff layoffs. In fact, most job roles are not entirely replaceable by technology. Rather, you will have the opportunity to redefine job roles as you automate tasks and workflows. Your employees will become more productive, and you will cut costs, save time, and create efficiencies. According to a report published by the McKinsey Global Institute, “As many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.”

Tedious, recurring tasks are prime candidates for automation. Below are 13 business tasks you can automate now:

  1. Report creation

  2. Software/hardware/technology requests

  3. HR requests (employee hiring/termination)

  4. Appointment scheduling

  5. Bill paying

  6. Invoicing/accounting

  7. Social media posts

  8. Email responses, signatures, and sorting

  9. Word processing functions (e.g., replacing text, renaming files)

  10. Data mining

  11. Templates for proposals

  12. Customer communication

  13. Login credentials and the filling out of form information

According to the American Psychological Association, “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.” So, why not automate as much as possible? In order to determine the tasks your company should automate, consider the benefits you will generate by using technology rather than humans, as well as the value employees can deliver by focusing on other activities.


Who Can Benefit from Task Automation?

Business professionals across all industry verticals and business departments can benefit from task automation. For example, the McKinsey Institute estimates that ten to 15 percent of a marketing executive’s time can be “automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology.”

Jen Holtvluwer

Technology marketing executive Jennifer Holtvluwer utilizes task automation to encourage social selling that engages buyers and increases brand awareness. “Marketers tasked with growing voice share for a challenger brand understand the power of employee advocacy,” she says. “Leveraging the networks of your employees is one way to expand brand recognition — and having consistent messages to share externally is crucial for success.”

“Utilizing task automation for social media posts provides employees with content that is on point, branded, and [can be] easily shared to their social profiles in a matter of seconds,” Holtvluwer adds. “I have used platforms like EveryoneSocial to make task automation extremely simple and quick when leveraging social channels to grow brand awareness.”

From law offices to sales teams to marketing professionals, the activities that can be automated using modern technology are endless.

Industry/Department Task
Legal Data mining
Healthcare Patient scheduling, appointment reminders, RX refills
Government Building permits, licensing
Education Class enrollment
Sales Lead generation
Marketing Email templates, consolidation of social media posts, content syndication
Accounting Automated payments
IT Data backups, network management, PC maintenance, uninstall apps/programs, the conversion of files in bulk, account creation, file transfers, data extraction
HR Payroll scheduling, candidate recruiting
Development/Programming Scripts to copy files and perform repetitive actions, the optimization of images
 
Customer Support Surveys and questionnaires

 


How to Choose the Right Task Automation Tool

Specialized desktop and cloud-based tools have been developed to automate tasks in almost every business department. Below you will find a list of tools that are useful to most organizations:

Tool Task
Hootsuite Social media posts
Dropbox Data backups
Google Analytics Web traffic reports
Gmail Automated email responses
Wordpress Blog post scheduling
Google Alerts Search term research
Microsoft Office Find/replace, file renaming conventions
Windows Focus Assist The management of MS Windows alerts
SurveyMonkey

Customer surveys and questionnaires, data collection


Tool selection will vary based on the business vertical and need, but with any software selection process, create a list of criteria that supports your business needs. General task automation functions may include the following:

  • Easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface

  • Integrations with other tools

  • Web and mobile device access

  • Search and report functions

  • Automated notifications via email and/or alerts

  • Recurring task schedules

  • Real-time scheduling that considers weekends and holidays

  • The ability to configure without coding


The Benefits of Task Automation

Artificial intelligence and robotics are on their way to improving everything you do in business and in your personal life. C-level executives rank process and task automation as a top priority for driving efficiencies. Plus, the innovative technology powered by artificial intelligence, robotics, and predictive analytics enable staff to automate across all business functions. With the right tools, businesses will experience the following benefits from task automation:

  • Reduced costs

  • Increased productivity

  • Increased system availability

  • Improved accuracy and reliability

  • Improved performance

  • Increased human resource availability

  • Increased focus on high-value, strategic activities

Mike Palazzolo

Mike Palazzolo, Owner of Fintentional, relies on task automation for appointment planning: "Automating the task of scheduling client appointments is a major time saver for everyone. I use Calendly. Automation reduces the time I spend scheduling appointments, provides clients the flexibility to schedule at any time, and allows me to efficiently balance my day between appointments and office work."


Past and Future of Task Automation

Computer automation began over 50 years ago with the first operating system that could run batch jobs. Technology has continued to progress throughout the years, and today, tens of thousands of tools are available to automate various tasks, activities, and business processes.

According to research conducted by the McKinsey Institute, “Sixty percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated.” This does not mean that robots will take over jobs, but that technology can easily automate mundane and complex tasks, allowing you to redefine roles that provide more business value. Task and process automation are worthy trends to follow, as we watch robotics and artificial intelligence become smarter and more embedded in our everyday lives.


Build Powerful, Automated Business Processes and Workflows with Smartsheet

Automating tasks and workflows empowers your staff to become more productive and allows your company to cut costs, save time, and create efficiencies. That’s why software tools that support task and process automation are critical to your success. One such tool is Smartsheet, an enterprise work execution platform that fundamentally changes the way teams, leaders, and businesses get work done. Over 74,000 brands and millions of information workers trust Smartsheet as the best way to plan, capture, manage, automate, and report on work.

You can build automated business processes without a single line of code, complex formulas, or help from IT. Achieve faster progress by creating automated approval requests and automated update requests that are triggered based on preset rules. Use Smartsheet to automate and streamline the following processes: time card tracking, sales discounts, procurement, HR hiring, content, and more. Plus, Smartsheet integrates with the tools you already use to seamlessly connect your efforts across applications.

Get from idea to impact faster by building powerful, automated business processes in Smartsheet.

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