We live in a world that's highly automated.

At home, you might already use lights that come up when you pass through the front door. In your car, sensors can tell you when you drift outside of a lane. Yet, in business, we often like to stick with a method that works. We enter expenses into an accounting app by hand and send them off to our accountant. With a CRM app, we collect contacts and enter the address and phone info, because that's how we've always done it.

Yet many areas of business are ripe for automation. Some, like automating your employee mileage tracking, are so easy and affordable you might wonder why you ever had your staff do this manually. Others, like email automation, save countless hours.

Here are my top picks for automation. If you use any of these methods, will you drop me a line? I want to do a follow-up about actual companies using these apps and services.

1. Content marketing

Finding, sorting, and using content is a full-time job for some. It doesn't have to be so time consuming. An app like Stackla can find content based on location, hashtags, or images so you can use it for marketing campaigns and on social media.

2. Recruiting

Almost everything about the recruiting process is ripe for automation, including how you collect résumés and how you test candidates. One example, called HackerRank, automates the hiring process for developers and engineers and includes a test to see a candidate write code in real time.

3. Printing

Printing is a perfect candidate for automation. A few years ago, HP introduced a service called Instant Ink that sends you a refill by mail when your printer runs low. Cartridge World's CW Print Manager app goes a step further and alerts technicians if there is a printer problem and also keeps your toner stocked and ready.

4. Cybersecurity

As a business, you might feel like you're losing the cyberwar. One company, Darktrace, helps automate security to give you a leg up. Helped by unsupervised machine learning, the service automatically detects and acts against suspicious activity.

5. Mileage tracking

Having employees track their mileage for expense reporting is time consuming and often inaccurate. One app called Motus can track this automatically. The driver initiates the tracking for his or her route or the app can use an auto start/auto stop function during business hours.

6. Customer service

Repetition happens, especially in the customer service field. One service, called DigitalGenius, can automate the process by automatically filling in reason codes and even stock replies for the most common questions customers ask. It integrates with Salesforce, Zendesk, and other apps.

7. Time sheets

Shudder to think any company is still using paper time sheets. The Timely app automates the entire time-tracking process and even alerts employees when it is time to submit the time sheet. It can also import meetings to add to a time sheet to book those hours.

8. Asset tracking

Tracking assets is also a cumbersome task. One app, called GPS Trackit, uses RFID and Bluetooth Low Energy tags to track assets in real time. You can determine the exact location of goods and even determine if an asset in your warehouse leaves your location after hours.

9. Email

Still processing email by hand? Several apps are here to help. One, called Zapier, can automate tasks (e.g., when you receive an email, it can send you a Slack notification). Another, called Active Campaign, automates email marketing and can auto-register people for an email newsletter.

10. Accounting

Botkeeper is like having a robot help you with accounting. It can record financial transactions, answer questions, and keep track of your expenses. The app is unique in that there are humans who can step in when you need more complex assistance.

11. Social media posts

It's amazing how many small companies do social media "by hand" when they craft posts for Facebook and Twitter. Apps like Hootsuite and Sprout Social let you schedule and automate posts, optimize them for the most engagement, and help you manage your followers.

12. Expense tracking

The Neat app is a lifesaver. It can scan receipts when you travel on business and then save them so you can create an expense report and send it off to accounting. The app lets you edit the expense tracking details and set categories, and the results can be loaded into an accounting app like QuickBooks or Sage.

13. CRM

Here's the dirty little secret about CRM. Many companies have an app for managing contacts, but getting people to use the app can be a chore. ProsperWorks scans incoming emails automatically and captures the sales data you need. It can also make, log, and track sales calls using VoIP telephone systems.

Published on: Feb 21, 2017