What is business automation?
Automation is nothing new. it’s been around since farms began to become mechanically automated using machinery, like the plough.
You might think that we’ve already automated all we can. However, a recent Oxford University study has found that 47% of today’s current jobs will be automated in the next 20 years!
If you’re a small business owner, this means it’s a probably good idea to start looking at ways in which you can streamline your processes in order to remain competitive by saving time and money.
What is the cloud?
The ‘cloud’ seems to be the new I.T buzzword, but basically what it means is services that are hosted and connected through the Internet.
A good example is cloud based accounting packages. Traditionally people would install their accounting packages on a single computer, like MYOB or Quicken. This would mean that only one person can use the software at once and that you had to physically be at the computer to use it.
Cloud based accounting packages run as secure web pages on the internet, so there’s no installation, multiple people can use them at once, they are automatically upgraded for you, and you can be anywhere in the world, using any computer that’s connected to the web.
It’s not only accounting packages that offer cloud based solutions. There are even cloud based solutions you’ve probably used for a long time without realising it. Here are some examples:
• Web based email like Gmail and Hotmail (and their address books)
• Internet banking
• Ecommerce websites (WooCommerce, Magento, Shopify etc..)
• Customer Relationship Management (CRM software)
• More and more desktop based software is coming online.
What is cloud integration?
Now, running from the cloud is great for using your accounting software from anywhere on the web, but an even bigger advantage to cloud based solutions, is that cloud based solutions can talk to each other! This is where the fun starts.
When cloud based software is developed, more often than not, it comes with what I.T geeks call an API. API stands for Application Programming Interface and basically means that the software can be connected, or plugged in to other software online.
Cloud integration is connecting two cloud based software systems together. Some examples of this are:
• You Internet banking transactions are automatically fed to your accounting package, so they don’t need to be entered.
• Your online shop sales are automatically fed to your accounting package, so you don’t need to manually enter the invoices.
• Your new online shop customers are automatically added to your mobile phone address book, so you know who they are when they call.
These are just a few examples, and all of these examples can happen simultaneously. Sound good? Read on!
In the past, only large businesses could afford to make the most of API connections, because they had the money to pay developers like ourselves, to connect their systems together. However, over the last few years some solutions have began to emerge that have the connections ready to go, so it’s possible to achieve affordable cloud integrations.
OneSaas is an Australian based online cloud integration tool that has a fast growing list of software that it can automatically connect together.
You sign up online, tell it what you want to integrate and enter your settings.
If you’re unsure of exactly how and what you want to connect, it’s probably a good idea to speak to a developer. However, as the cloud integrations are already available out of the box, the cost of cloud integration is far, far less than what it would cost to create these connections yourself.
If you (or someone you pay) are spending time each week manually entering items from one system into another, the cost of initial integration will be easily regained once your systems are connected.
The configuration options are quite comprehensive and allow you to do things like filter which invoices flow between your different systems, prefix your contacts with a special word, so you know they came from your online shop or telling your accounting package which bank account to put different transactions into.
Snapfrozen Case Study
At Snapfrozen, we have hundreds of hosting customers. Originally, we were using MYOB for our monthly hosting invoices and we didn’t have a system to manage our customers.
Each month, we’d go through a spreadsheet that had each customer and when their hosting was due. We’d then manually create the invoices in MYOB, print them to PDF and email them.
Admittedly, MYOB does have a recurring invoice feature, but this was useless to us, as the contents of the invoice changed from month to month.
We then had to keep the customers up to date in both the spreadsheet and MYOB.
This was a whole days work for a staff member each month.
If customers didn’t pay, we’d have to manually go through our bank account, print out a report from MYOB and contact the customer.
In the middle
After a few years, we found some cloud based software called WHMCS that automated the invoicing, so customers would get invoices automatically. This took about 2 months to get properly running. However, the time was well worth it. However, we still then had to manually enter each invoice into MYOB from our new software system.
We have different types of hosting which need to be entered into different accounts in MYOB. This manual task still took our bookkeeper about ¾ of a day. We saved some time as the system would email automatic reminders if customers didn’t pay. However, we still had to mark paid payments from our bank account into both our hosting system (WHMCS) and MYOB which was quite time consuming and would often cause issues with customers if it wasn’t up to date.
We eventually grew tired of MYOB, mainly due to the fact that we had to cart the ‘MYOB laptop’ around if we wanted to do the accounts somewhere else than the office. After trying both Saasu and Xero, we settled on Xero and haven’t looked back since.
Xero offers a nice clean interface and automatically connects to most banks in Australia. This means that your transactions automatically come into the Xero accounting software without them having to be entered. This alone saved us a great deal of bookkeeping time.
Once we had the combination of WHMCS (online shop, invoicing) and Xero, we then found OneSaas which, out of the box, came with the capability to integrate these two cloud systems together.
After a few days of setup and testing, We had OneSaas automatically ‘pulling’ our invoices and customer information from WHMCS, then ‘pushing’ this into the correct accounts in Xero. Not only that, but if invoices were paid in WHMCS, this information would also be pushed to Xero.
Because Xero has automatic bank feeds rolling in, if a customer has made a direct debit payment matching an invoice number from WHMCS, this is automatically matched and simply requires confirmation from the bookkeeper, rather than any entry. The bookkeeper turns up, logs into Xero and can virtually just confirm that it’s done the right thing.
An added bonus was the Google Address Book support in OneSaas, which meant all our mobile phone address books always have the latest customer information, so when customers call, we know who they are. Or, if we need to call them, we always have their latest contact information.
This seemed like absolute magic to us, even as cloud integrators ourselves, this was simply brilliant.
Your own integration will most likely require finding the right software, testing and playing around before settling on the perfect solution. You may also find that you need some development work to get everything to ‘fit’. However, our experience has been that any time spent on automation through cloud integration is well worth it, with the time and money we’ve saved.
At Snapfrozen, we cut down our bookkeeping hours from one day every two weeks, to four hours a month. We cut down our staff invoicing time from one day a week (including debtors), to it being a completely automated system.
Our bookkeeper is happy because she can now help more people, with less laborious work. She has suggested our solution to other clients who have already started integration. Our staff are happy because manually sending out invoices sucked. They can now concentrate on support and maintenance of our hosting systems.
We hope that this has been useful to you. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line if you have any questions, or require assistance with looking at automation within your business.