Published On: Mon, May 7th, 2018

The Future of Business and the Democratization of Automation

Business automation is a growing trend for businesses of all sizes, particularly mid-market and enterprises. This isn’t surprising considering the benefits it provides, such as eliminating time-consuming inefficiencies and streamlining processes leading to increased productivity, lower costs, and ultimately faster and greater revenue generation. Automation also enables enterprise business users to take direct control of their operations without having to go out and get an engineering degree.

As an example of the trend towards automation, GoDaddy recently acquired social marketing automation platform Main Street Hub in a $125 million deal to augment its service offerings. Main Street Hub allows companies to enjoy a “do-it-for-me” approach where they can quickly outsource and automate their social marketing needs. In addition, Google Analytics add-on Fastbase recently rolled out new updates to augment its lead segmentation services for its new and existing enterprise CMO clients.

It’s worth mentioning that although automation tends to be perceived as an economic threat to employees, the reality is that in B2B, automation is a boon for businesses and employees alike. This is especially true for “General Automation Platforms” – a new breed of automation that integrates any point solution, gives users the ability to create sophisticated workflows that tie together those solutions, and offer a user-friendly, clicks-not-code interface. These modern automation solutions free up business users’ time by quickly and efficiently managing complex operational processes, and are therefore not much of a threat for jobs that require skills such as creativity, critical thinking, and flexibility. This is especially true when businesses make automation available to business users at all levels. The result? Better opportunities for all.

photo/ public domain photos via pixabay

What do General Automation Platforms do?

The basic premise behind a General Automation Platform is that it enables company-wide automation, rather than focusing on any particular department to the exclusion or detriment of others. Practically, what this means is that managers and employees are empowered to use such platforms to take direct control of their operations on a day-to-day basis, without requiring costly IT enablement, or having to invest in a thousand and one expensive point solutions that aren’t always guaranteed to work well with each other.

These platforms enable teams of any business function (marketing, sales, customer success, IT, finance, legal, and operations among others) to directly build out and automate their own processes themselves. It also empowers companies to directly share data flows not just within individual teams, but across teams. This means pushing data from marketing to sales to customer success to rapidly push leads through a sales funnel into closed-won status; pushing data from sales to customer success to finance and legal to rapidly onboard new customers…and many more use cases. As a result, not only do these modern automation platforms help every team in an organization move faster and more efficiently, but they also tear down the traditional barriers between siloed databases and software stacks…as well as between siloed teams.

There are many different types of business automation platforms that businesses can use to realize the benefits of automation. For instance, Oracle Eloqua is a leading marketing automation platform that streamlines marketing processes. It enables businesses to engage in marketing processes such as:

  • Lead capture via marketing automation – Running digital marketing programs that capture lead information for future use.
  • Lead routing – Sending leads to the appropriate business development or sales reps to enable real-time follow-up.
  • Lead scoring – Automatically determining the value of each lead in terms of potential value and how likely it is to lead to a conversion.

Meanwhile, general automation platforms such as Tray.io focus on making it easy to integrate myriad business functions through disparate apps by using APIs. In addition to marketing automation, these functions include:

  • Marketing processes like custom lead scoring by bringing together buying intent signals from multiple tools so sales can focus on the leads that are more likely to turn into revenue.
  • Sales processes like automating request for proposal workflows resulting in higher sales win rates.
  • Customer service processes such as prioritizing service requests based on customer need or urgency, resulting in happier customers and improved brand reputation.
  • Operations processes such as data warehouse integration and centralized document management, resulting in greater productivity.
  • Engineering and IT processes such as automating bug reports and feature requests, leading to faster releases and enhanced efficiency.
  • Finance processes such as ensuring financial data processing compliance, resulting in greater control over data and reduced liability.
  • Human resources processes such as automating employee onboarding and off-boarding, resulting in a faster, more-efficient hiring process.

Business automation processes

The average enterprise uses dozens if not hundreds of applications to support its business processes, but struggles to integrate them into a cohesive workflow. This is an issue because the inability to get each point solution to properly talk to one another, and in some cases, to extract data from each other, causes important business data to become siloed and ultimately leads to costly waste. It’s been estimated that improper data governance with poorly stored or siloed data will cost businesses $3.3 trillion by 2020. Thus, the purpose of any automation platforms is to enable business professionals to automate processes across any number of applications and departments. This lets them un-silo data, get rid of wasteful and time-consuming processes, and easily scale their company’s growth and increase productivity and revenue.

One thing to keep in mind is that general automation platforms offer the powerful advantage of integrating your tech stack on the back-end with a user-friendly front-end. As mentioned earlier, these platforms can be used by business users in any function, and don’t require specialized skills to operate.

Think about that for a moment: As technology lead, you’ll no longer be embattled for resources among different departments that need low-level support for individual point solutions. General Automation Platforms empower marketers, sales professionals, support professionals, and other members of your team to build their own workflows to extract value from their various point solutions, making few to no IT asks, without writing code. Once these automated, inter-app workflows have been enabled and “switched on,” they can run by themselves without constant oversight or troubleshooting. This means you’re now free to deploy IT resources toward more-strategic goals.

Common features in General Automation Platforms

There are many choices available when it comes to general automation platforms. However, there are some basic features that each platform should offer:

  • Comprehensive integrations – Integrating different applications is the fundamental building block of any automation platform. If it doesn’t do this, then it’s not an automation platform, full stop.
  • API authentication – To unlock access to APIs which enable inter-app connectivity. If you can’t authenticate, then you can’t automate.
  • Workflow triggers – Triggers that activate connected apps and initiate workflow automation.
  • Data formatting – To help transfer data across disparate apps and systems.
  • Visual workflow builders – To enable workflow design and construction without specialized coding skills.
  • Logical operators – To decide what to do with the data that’s flowing throughout your workflow, similar to formulas and functions available in spreadsheets.
  • Workflow operation logs – to record and allow for troubleshooting and inspection.
  • Varying degrees of data processing functionality, transparency, security, and security compliance.

As with drones and artificial intelligence, business automation is the way of the future. There was a time when computers were cutting edge and typewriters were the norm. Sometime soon, it will be the same with automation, and workflows without General Automation Platforms will seem archaic. Whether or not your business can compete in this fast-approaching future depends on how quickly it can automate.

Author: Jonas Fiedler

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