5 levels of automation in business

Jan 21, 2020 | 3 minute read

Whenever I talk about work with somebody, I'm always interested in how their processes look like. I talked with freelancers, one person businesses, people from small companies up to 10 employees, bigger companies up to 50, 100 and 1000 employees and corporations.

There are lot of recurring themes and most of these processes aren't even special or in any way unique. I'd say all of them fit within one of 5 buckets. What's interesting is that higher level of automation does not correlate with sophistication, but rather scale of operations. You simply won't be able to grow before you automate some of your things.

1. Manual work without automation

Domain of single person operations, where you usually don't do async work. It's responding to emails and phone calls, noting down stuff in physical notebook and issuing invoices by editing Word template.

High variety of activities and none of them take much time, hence no real need to automate. Introducing invoicing software to get one-click-PDF invoices gives you nothing but increased cost of operations.

2. Specialised business tools

If you get drowned with emails and have hard time sorting through your inbox to find customer data, you introduce CRM.
If you need to send emails to hundreds of people and BCC is not working well anymore, you introduce mailing software.
If you need to send out eBook to everyone who subscribed, you don't do it manually - you create workflow in marketing automation system.

This is the most prevalent situation. Tools don't share data, so your big picture view might get a little blurry. It's about time to fire up Excel, download exports from your tools and join data to answer few questions you have.

3. Native integrations

Different teams use different tools and they all need some parts of other teams data. Marketing system sends new leads to Salesforce and Salesforce updates contact data when they become customers.

You don't code these workflows, you vendor already did it for you. You go to “Integrations” tab, click a logo, authorise login and tools are connected. You have some configuration options available, but not that much. It's OK, though - your needs are met.

4. Custom integrations

Now you need to do something which is not available in native integration, or native integration between these two particular tools of yours doesn't exist.

Your requirements are not that complicated, there's no need for custom code yet. You introduce Zapier, IFTT or Microsoft Power Automate. You can really do a lot with these tools.

If there is something really special you need to be done, Zapier Code let's you deploy custom Javascript or Python code without any of that development environments which get insanely complicated sooner or later.

5. Bespoke integrations

This one interesting, as bespoke integrations often blend with previous levels. All custom coded internal tools, apps and solutions fit here. Excel with VBA macros, too.

If you need high speed, capacity or customisation - you usually end up with something bespoke just for you. Certain data requirements like on-premise hosting will force you to create custom tooling, too - even if there is SaaS available somewhere.


Business Automation