January 19, 2021
5 Tips for Automation in 2021
Unsure of what to automate or how to get started? Here are some easy steps you can take to see the value that automation delivers.
The year 2020 saw significant business disruptions, which caused many organizations to adopt new technology strategies, repurpose or resize infrastructure, and honestly assess the suitability of existing solutions moving forward. Amid all this introspection, one general theme seems apparent: Automation should be a key component of any business strategy not only in the office but in the home office as well.
What follows are five tips to help get the creative juices flowing as you look to automate more of your daily tasks. Then, you can make room for innovation and a more rewarding work experience — regardless of location.
1. Start Looking for Small, Easy Opportunities for Automation
Getting started with automation concepts can seem daunting but, without realizing it, most people have already automated something in their normal lives. If you have ever asked Alexa, Siri or Google assistant for your favorite cookie recipe, set up your DVR to record a show, or used a timer for turning on your holiday lights, you’ve automated something.
The beginning of automation doesn’t need to be riddled with artificial intelligence and machine learning; you can start simple. Like the examples we listed, the intent is merely to take an action that you might often repeat and outsource it to a system that can execute it as you desire. Translating that to your business needs and starting small might look like analyzing weekly data, generating a graph and emailing it to the boss every Friday afternoon.
As confidence builds and additional chains of manual work are discovered, your automation processes can increase in scope and complexity in an organic, need-based way. The final version of the email example could be a chatbot on the company’s communication platform where an employee can query for real-time report data via a generated graph and the boss still gets their specific information on Fridays via direct message.
2. Explore APIs for New Automation Opportunities
Want to automate your meetings once you return to the office or do the same for remote users? Perhaps the relatively new Cisco Webex Meetings application programming interface (API) can provide what you are looking for. With the Webex API, one can list, create, retrieve, update or delete meetings. Perhaps a daily message via email or a chatbot added to your collaboration platform can be set up to provide a list of meetings for the day. Take a look at this Cisco Learning Network video to develop some new ideas for utilizing the Webex Meetings API and for a peek into what else is on the roadmap.
Do you have Cisco video endpoints in your office environment? Perhaps creating an automated visitor check-in kiosk would be fun and useful project to consider. Using the Cisco API is very simple with many examples on the internet, such as this one.
The easiest way to begin is to think of something that will benefit your workflow then research what APIs are available.
3. Become Familiar with a Programming Language
An important aspect of automation is programming. While it may seem daunting to take on learning how to program, it really is easier than ever to learn a language given all the resources available today. Online training offered by LinkedIn Learning or online books such as those provided by O’Reilly are a great place to start learning a programming language.
Which language to start with? Python is a great first language to learn based on its code readability and the number of support channels available. As Python’s website promises: “You can learn to use Python and see almost immediate gains in productivity and lower maintenance costs.”
For more information on how to get started learning Python, see this earlier blog “How to Get Started with Python Programming Language.”
4. Learn the Capabilities of an API
Communicating with an API is typically going to be the heart of any automation process. Depending on the API capabilities of what you’re interacting with, you may be able to make changes to a system, read or write data, or even have information sent to you via something like a webhook.
These days, Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs are the de facto standard for many platforms. However, there are many other types, such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Remote Procedure Call (RPC), with different flavors such as XML-RPC or JSON-RPC. As there is no universal API, it’s important to determine what service or product you might want to interact with for your automation and learn the API that they publish.
You could be leveraging something like Cisco Webex for collaboration, Microsoft Graph or Plotly for data visualization or voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. To get started, consider an integration point that could benefit you and your business, research the published API and do some exploring or leverage guided examples if they exist.
Understanding the capabilities (and limitations) of the API will help shape how you approach your automation. Many API publishers even leverage tools like Swagger UI to let you test things out right within the browser. Other tools like Postman are available to help you explore APIs without having to write a single line of code.
5. Automate Something
Once you have the basics of programming down and have familiarized yourself with an API, it’s time to automate something. Start with something easy – for example, write a Python script that delivers your company’s stock price to a Webex Teams room. Write a weather chatbot that will provide the forecast based on zip code. Write a skill for whichever virtual assistant you may have in your home. For example, create an Alexa skill to track chores in the home or to create and monitor tasks. See the Alexa blueprint page or the Google Assistant developer page to help you get started.
The Value of Automation
Automation does not have to be very complicated or increase time savings immensely, it can just be something simple that saves a few minutes of time in your day. Once you see the benefit in saving a few minutes, it may open your mind to other ideas that could potentially shave hours off a task or eliminate the task from human intervention completely.
Are you interested in learning more about how automation can increase efficiency in your environment, or do you wish to discuss potential use cases for automation? Please contact your CDW account manager to learn more.