Web App Integration & Business Process Automation – An Introduction


Moving to the cloud

Migrating to the cloud entails shifting all (or parts) of you business data and software from your server or computer’s hard-drive to a server somewhere else in the world.

The main advantages of having your data in the cloud:

  • Accessibility – anybody with an internet connection can access this data from anywhere in the world (providing they have the log-in details and passwords). It also means that other software processes on other servers that you enable can automatically connect with your data.
  • Scalability – data is continually growing and your hard-drive eventually runs out of space – the cloud doesn’t – allowing you to scale endlessly.
  • Data Security – Whereas a laptop might get stolen or damaged, cloud data is usually continually backed up, with enterprise level virus-protection.


Web Apps

It is not only data that can be moved to the cloud – software applications can be run from the cloud too. Most software applications are heading to the cloud – where previously you loaded Photoshop from a CD onto your hard-drive, you now need to subscribe on a monthly or annual basis to Adobe who supply the software as a service which you access through your internet browser.  Business’s that sell software services in this manner follow the SAAS (Software As A Service) business model.

Software applications that run on a server accessed by a web browser are known as web apps.  See also: What are web apps?

Web apps have advantages over desktop apps as software updates and improvements can be rolled out at any time. Back in the early 2000s you had to wait for the CD with the next software version. Bugs can also be addressed in realtime – all of it happening in the background while you are working.

Business web apps usually focus on solving a specific business need rather than being an all-in-one solution. So for example, Mailchimp provides email newsletter software services, Trello provides collaborative project management tools and Slack provides internal group communication. Instead of setting up all of these business processes in-house, entrepreneurs can now take a modular approach and plug in turn-key solutions for different business functions. Effectively what you are doing is outsourcing your business software needs for different segments of your business to the experts in those segments.

Web App Integration

So now you have migrated your business to the cloud and are using various web apps to manage different parts of your businesses digital needs. Well done!

Many small bsuinesses stop at this point, but in reality they are only a third of the way there. As soon as you are using two or more web apps, you have the problem of keeping all of your data in these three different places in synch. Say, for example you are using Airtable as your customer database (CRM), Xero for your accounting, and Mailchimp to manage your Email Newsletters. Now, say, one of your customers changes their email address. You now have to update this email address in three places.

Not only is this a tedious, repititive task that you are paying somebody to do, but it is also prone to human error. In busy times it might not get done right away either, leaving your data out of synch for a time. During this time your accountant could send out an invoice from Xero to the wrong email address.

It doesn’t need to be this way! Now that your data is in the cloud, it is connectable from anywhere on the internet so there is nothing stopping you from establishing a connection between Airtable, Xero and Mailchimp. This way you can tell Airtable that when you add a new (or update an exisiting) email address in one of its fields, it automatically (and instantly!) updates that same customer’s records in Xero and Mailchimp. This may sound trivial but if you are adding or updating twenty email addresses a week, and each time you have to log into three different accounts and copy and paste three times, taking 5 minutes per email update – you are wasting 7 hours a month!

In the past integrating different web apps required paying developers to code custom APIs (Application Programming Intefaces) which they then needed to maintain too. However there are now web apps that provide “Integrations As A Service” allowing businesses to integrate their services without any coding knowledge.


Business Process Automation

Once your various web apps are integrated you can start automating many of your business processes. The email update example above was an automation, albeit a very basic one. The automation worked like this:

{I update an email address in Airtable}

{Go to Xero and Mailchimp and update the same customer}

All automations follow this IF {this thing happens} THEN {do this thing} logic.
In Zapier the IF part is called the Trigger and the THEN part the Action

Of course, far more complex and sophisticated automations can be designed. An automation is not limited to a single action. Once a trigger fires there can be many actions.

If this, then do that, then do that, then do that, then do that

And there can be intermediate steps too like time delays, filters, data conversions and conditional logic.

For example

If this
Then do that
Then wait for 3 days
Then do that
Then, if something (a filter)
Then do that
Otherwise (conditonal logic)
Do this.

For automations like this it is usually better to get an expert in. Not only will they be able to design and implement the automation, but with their experience and practised eye they will be able to look at your business and identify workflows that can be automated.

Knowing what can be automated is not always immediately obvious and requires a specialised kind of creativity. Once you have started the journey to automate your business you will be amazed at how many processes can actually be automated. Automations don’t only improve processes that were already in place, the new leverage they give you will invariably lead to new business functionalities that you never dreamed of.

In addition to designing and implementing automations, experts can provide a wide variety of ancillary services like analysing your business processes and providing advice on the best web apps for your particular business needs, providing cost-benefit analyses and ongoing monitoring and reporting on your business automations. We are one of those experts. Contact us today to see what we can do for your business.