If The Task Is Repetitive, Automate It!

Managers in general know only too well how much time can be eaten up by day-to-day admin tasks, which are seldom core to delivery of services, but are necessary for keeping tabs on where things are at in terms of delivery of projects within time and budget. For example, checking that time sheets have been completed up-to-date, calculating the cost of sales and profit margins on projects, determining month-end invoice values, etc. This is frustrating, since it often results in significant loss of time for the manager that could otherwise be spent on more strategic work for the company.

Manual tasks, especially ones that involve calculations and summaries based on a large amount of input data, for instance time sheet data, is also prone to mistakes and errors. This can become a serious issue, especially if any of these errors end up filtering through to clients.

It is therefore prudent as a manager to take a regular look at where one’s time is being spent on repetitive tasks, and to determine whether any of these tasks can be eliminated and/or improved by replacing them with automated processes. Disciplined keeping of a personal time sheet is useful for recording time spent and going back to it afterwards to discover the trends.

OPENCOLLAB places a large focus on automating just about everything that can possibly be automated, with the goal of freeing up time for managers and staff that can better be used for higher value and more strategic work. This, of course, does not only apply to administration tasks, but is just as important to the software development process itself, where automated builds, automated testing, continuous integration, and the automation principles of DevOps in general can free up huge amounts of time for developers that can in turn be applied to the core business of developing software.

On the administration side though, a couple of tools that have proved to be particularly useful at OPENCOLLAB are Google Sheets along with the quick and easy-to-learn Google Apps Script, a javascript-based scripting language that integrates to the Google suite of apps. With Google Sheets along with Apps Scripts, it is possible to do a few very useful things: these include easily linking or transferring data between multiple Google sheets (using the importrange() sheets function or writing a script to copy selected data from one sheet to another), extracting data out of a (non-Google) database source into a Google Sheet for further processing and analysis (using the JDBC service available in Apps Script), summarising data (using Google Sheet pivot tables and getpivotdata() sheets function), querying data with SQL type queries (using the query() sheets function), applying formulas to dynamically-sized sets of data (using the arrayformula() sheets function), doing custom processing of data sets using custom Apps Scripts, and sharing data between a defined group of people (using Google Drive Sharing functionality).

All Google Apps Scripts can be scheduled to run automatically at defined intervals, can integrate with Gmail to send emails, and can also access and interact with any of the other Google Apps, for instance Google Calendar.

Of course it should be said that the specific tools that are chosen to assist with automation of tasks is not really important – there are many ways to achieve similar results. But the principle of determining where time is being spent on manual and repetitive tasks, and intentionally finding ways to automate these tasks in order to improve efficiencies, can be hugely beneficial. The ability to set up an automated stream of accurate, trustworthy and near-real time management data that can be presented and shared in an easily digestible format, is invaluable in any organisation.

Garth Airey is the Service Delivery manager at OPENCOLLAB where repetitive tasks are systematically being replaced by automated processes in order to improve accuracy and free up more time.

Contact: garth@opencollab.co.za

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