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Exploring Tools and Services to Help You Work Smarter!

There’s a lot of talk these days about automation and integration – but what do they mean? And more importantly, what can they do for you and your business? In this blog post, we’ll explore the world of integration and automation and look at some of the best tools and services out there. We’ll also discuss using automation within your existing tools and some tips for improving time management. So read on to find out more!

What is integration?

Integration enables information or data to be readily shared between systems without human intervention. The integration process is generally automated and occurs on an “events basis” (e.g., issuing an invoice, establishing a customer record) or a “scheduled basis” (once an hour, once a week, etc.).

Integration programming usually follows the same series of steps as if a human being had performed the task independently. It’s all about transferring data between applications.

What is automation?

In business, automation is performing a task without the need for human intervention. Humans develop automated procedures, but the actual operation takes place across systems. It will run on its own until intervention is required unless stopped.

The thermostat in your house or refrigerator is an excellent example of simple automation. When it’s set, it will maintain the temperature. Complicated automation would be something like your vehicle’s traction control system, which automatically adjusts based on various actual-world situations.

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How do integration and automation work together?

Integration provides the automation process with the data it needs to operate. In most cases, automation works best when it has a reliable source of information. That’s where integration comes in – it ensures that all the necessary data is collected and accessible.

Many businesses are now turning to integration platform as a service (iPaaS) tools, such as Power Automate, and services to help them automate their work. These platforms provide a wide range of automation capabilities and the ability to integrate with a variety of applications.

For example, if you wanted to automatically create new customer records in your CRM system every time someone placed an order on your website, you could use an iPaaS tool. Or, if you wanted to automatically send out invoices every time a new order was placed, you could use the same tool to do that as well.

Opportunities for Personal Integration

Now that we have discussed the basics of automation and integration and their value let’s get into how these can be used to save you time, effort, and money.

One area where automation can be beneficial is in your personal life. For example, you can use automation to control your home environment – turn on lights and appliances, change the temperature, reorder supplies from your favorite online retailer, etc. You can also use it to manage your schedule and keep track of important dates and tasks.

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Several excellent automation tools are available for services you probably already use in your daily life, including:

  • Use Outlook rules to categorize, label, and organize your email inbox.
  • Use Alexa to turn off the lights in your home at the end of the day as you get in bed.
  • Use Amazon or HP to order replacement toner/paper for your printer when running low.
  • Using Microsoft Power Automate to automatically process changes from your accounting system to your various other company systems.
  • Use a Stream Deck to launch your favorite applications at the push of a button.
  • Any frequently done task is a great candidate for automation and integration.

Clockify and Rescue Time offer more than just a glimpse of where your time is going. Instead, it allows practical solutions to regain control over busy periods and visualize where best to invest. Understanding how much time is spent on each activity can help you see where necessary adjustments need to be made to maximize efficiency and security and more ‘me-time’ in the day for yourself. 

Determine what would be gained by automating the task

  • Will automation reduce errors?
  • Will automation save time?
  • Will it allow a workflow to be tracked more easily?
  • Will a human double-check still be required?
  • Select an Automation Tool or Service
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Now that you know what you want to automate, it’s time to select a tool or service. There are many excellent automation tools that you can start using. From the novice to the expert, there is a toolset for you. Here are just a few you might consider:

Integration Platforms

When it comes to automation, integration, and data flow, an iPaaS tool is the ultimate tool. iPaaS tools allow you to easily connect different applications and services to share data between them.

This makes automation possible by allowing you to create ‘flows’ between different applications. Flows are a series of steps completed in a specific order and can be used to automate tasks or move data between applications. They work on trigger and action workflows.

There are many excellent iPaaS tools available, such as:

  • Power Automate. A powerful tool to connect resources inside and out of the Microsoft ecosystem of products.
  • If This, Then That (IFTTT). A fantastic option for the home, IoT, and personal projects.
  • Great option when many integration touchpoints are required and primarily web-based.
  • n8n (pronounced n-eight-n). An awesome option that utilizes FREE and open-source technology to push and pull data between your various systems.
  • Zoho Flow. An excellent option for users who are already leveraging the power of Zoho.
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Desktop Tools

Most applications have various methods to automate routine tasks or simplify complicated actions. By using the built-in automation features, you can save time and energy. Some popular desktop tools that include automation are:

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Microsoft Excel

Excel is a powerful tool for automation with many options for triggers and actions. A few examples of integration and automation features in Excel are:

  • Macros and user-defined functions can automate the tasks you repeatedly do.
  • Power Automate can significantly improve your process of extracting, transforming, and loading data inside of Excel.
  • There are countless 3rd party add-ins to assist with reporting and processing inside the application.
  • You can use the quick action toolbar to pin your most-used shortcuts.
  • Flash Fill can automatically fill your data when it recognizes a pattern.
  • Analyze Data and Recommended Pivot Tables can help you better understand your data.

Microsoft Word

With Word, you can automate tasks such as creating labels, envelopes, or fax covers. A few other examples of integration and automation features available in word are:

  • You can use Styles to easily, quickly, and consistently apply visual appearance to your documents and presentations.
  • You can use the quick action toolbar to pin your most-used shortcuts.
  • The “reuse content” and template function allows you to leverage and repurpose previously written content/documents.
  • Mail merge, table of content, etc., functionality automatically performs complicated actions that take forever to accomplish manually.
  • There are countless 3rd party tools available in the Microsoft Store to extend Word’s capabilities.
  • You can request signatures on documents with the Adobe Acrobat DC plugin.

Microsoft Outlook

You can use Outlook to create quick steps and rules that filter your email and manage your calendar. A few examples include:

Quick Steps apply multiple actions at the same time to email messages. This helps you quickly manage your mailbox. For example, if you frequently move messages to a specific folder, you can use a Quick Step to move the message in one click. Or, if you forward messages to your manager or peers, a one-click Quick Step can simplify the task.

  • You can also use rules to apply actions automatically to future incoming messages.
  • You can use the quick action toolbar to pin your most-used shortcuts.
  • There are countless 3rd party tools available in the Microsoft Store to extend Outlook’s capabilities.
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Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is the “grand central station” of communication. It brings together chat, voice, video, and file collaboration for an organization. Using Teams, you can have access to communicate with your whole organization, collaborate on documents in real-time, access data in 3rd party systems, approve documents, and more.

Teams have a ton of automation and integration functionality throughout the application. It offers excellent connectivity to other applications both in and outside the 365 ecosystems.

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Connectors.

Teams have connectors that allow you to link with other apps. Connectors keep your team up to speed by immediately delivering material and updates from services you use all the time into a channel. Updates from popular services such as Trello, Wunderlist, GitHub, and Azure DevOps Services may be delivered directly to your Teams users through connectors.

Third-Party Apps.

You can also use third-party apps to create automation: Flow bot, Zapier, Slack, or Connectors to pull status updates into Teams from non-Microsoft products.

Approvals.

The Approvals app provides a simple way to bring auditing, compliance, accountability, and workflow structured and unstructured Approvals in Teams. Approvals hub manages all approvals, including Power Automate, SharePoint, and Microsoft Dynamics 365. You can create approvals templates for yourself or your entire organization.

Approval requests are a feature that is directly inside Teams. You can trigger approvals from 350+ connectors or your LOB connector.

Adobe Acrobat DC.

Adobe Acrobat DC is hands down the best tool to create, edit, and organize PDF documents. There are also some fantastic automation tools inside the application which you should know about:

Integration with Microsoft Office

Using Adobe’s integrations with Microsoft Office, you can easily create and share PDFs right inside Microsoft Office applications. Functionality between applications differs, but generally, you can:

  • One-click PDF creation, you can even password-protect and compress it for an email too!
  • Create and share a PDF
  • Mail merge a PDF
  • Create and send for review
  • Create PDF and run custom actions
  • E-Signature with Adobe Sign

Adobe Sign

Adobe Sign is a secure e-signature service that allows you to get digital signatures from others quickly and easily, all within Acrobat. It’s fast, safe, and efficient for all types of documents that need to be signed.

Some features of Adobe Sign include:

  • Adobe Sign integrates with the Microsoft Suite, Salesforce, Workday, Zoho CRM, and more
  • Adobe Sign can be combined with industry-specific security standards
  • Adobe Sign provides real-time visibility on documents out for signature
  • It will alert you when documents have been signed
  • Allows you to create and manage templates for frequently used forms
  • Can send a copy to multiple recipients, and Adobe will customize it for each person.
  • Allows for custom branding in documents.

There are countless automation tools and services available to help you work smarter. The key is finding the right ones for you and your organization. Start by evaluating the tools you’re already using and see how they can be integrated and automated to help improve your efficiency.

Read this article to learn about some great integration and automation tools that you may not already use. Or take one of these great courses!

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