Oct. 18, 2021

Automating Away Annoying Tasks

Automating Away Annoying Tasks

This week, Ryan and Heather discuss using automation to decrease repetitive tasks.

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Ryan Purvis 0:00
Hello, and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast. I'm Ryan Purvis, your host supported by producer Heather Bicknell. In this series, you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines, the problems they face and how they solve them. The years they're focused on from technology people and processes to the approaches they took, they will help you to get to grips with the digital workspace inner workings.

Heather Bicknell 0:30
Hey, hello. Hey Ryan, sorry about that. I got the dreaded getting a Windows Update, you can restart now, or will restart you automatically in five minutes. Love starting my morning that way, nothing.

Ryan Purvis 0:53
Nothing worse. Nothing. Nothing was Yeah, I used to back when you're in the UK is to set up a whole lot of things to run overnight. And I used to come in in the morning expectancy, the results of what I'd worked on. Instead, I would see a blank desktop because windows had decided to update by itself and basically screwed the pooch. So not only did all the stuff that I thought I'd save, get lost, but all the progress that I would make in the sleeping hours. also gone site actually became quite anxious. I used to sit there to check my computer about 10 times before bed to make sure that everything was still running, it was still doing things etc. But still must be like two o'clock in the morning or something would happen. Used to kill me.

Heather Bicknell 1:41
Yeah, I mean, that's that's frustrating when you need it to be running to do other things. Not just save your workspace.

Ryan Purvis 1:49
Yeah, yeah. But I don't have that problem anymore. I made the the ultimate fix.

Heather Bicknell 1:59
How is it time for a Mac update? Do you have any backup? Well,

Ryan Purvis 2:06
I mean, as you might have, well, I can tell you a few things that I've been working on. So I I'm very impressed. And I actually I'm very curious to know what you when you do the recording on this. What what the sound quality is like, because I've done, I've updated all my devices to iOS 15. It's a little bit buggy. Little things here and there on the perfect. It says there's notifications when there aren't any notifications in that little badge. But but so far so good. But it's it's definitely an improvement. I find now on the museum, I've had a lot more. The original multitasking, the common is wasn't great on the iPad, it was very difficult to put screens next to each other. But now they've got these three little buttons at the top of the screen and you click on that with your finger. Press that with the finger click. And it gives you the choice of Well, how do you want the screen to be Do you want to join the share screen? Do you want to make it into the little little bar that had that that floats or do you want to be fullscreen and that works like a charm. The only only thing that's frustrating is that if I want to do our call now and have my notes next to the screen, you don't see the camera it turns the camera off. And I don't know I don't know if that's a team thing or if that's a an apple thing. So I'm going to do some some testing with zoom because I think it's I think I'm gonna move away from teams I find that also frustrating experience and see if that doesn't improve things. But other than that, what I've been doing with automation is I've been setting up a whole bunch of rules with with tehsil which is which is a file system automation. So that's now on my Mac automatically moving things around and reclassifying and re tagging them etc because I tend to have lots of little projects it's very easy to get confused by it and yeah that includes customer work and consulting and what kind of stuff so now I've got that all sorted itself out in the background which is what yeah, that's the kind of stuff I was trying to do online you know, my Windows device now you know Hazel just does that stuff. It's a little bit quirky to to set it up it's not it's not exactly a logical flow to begin with. But so far so good. Well my music organized my PDFs are organized on my PowerPoint slides organized by customer so there's a quite a lot of I mean, you've obviously got to do a bit to make it work like you're like if I'm writing a document for customer I've got to put the customer's name in the document and that's just good, good hygiene anyway. And that's been cleaning things up. The other thing that I've been working with a lot is notion notion and Zapier. So I've got A few flows that are now running with Zapier. So for example, when you and I record this this episode it'll save to a folder Hazel will pick up the thing and move it to another folder. When it does that move it it creates the episode in in in notion so that was the old that was the first addition. Now what happens is when you do your work and you put the stuff back in the folder, Hazel picks it up and moves it around it does the translations but those are the folder and then once we are ready to publish the episode there's a whole bunch of zaps that run including updating notion tables and all that kind of stuff. So this is reduced my you know, we did an episode with with Zoltan. It was so weird because I actually didn't have to go and do anything. And I had this weird like stress that I hadn't done something and then I went and checked in all the all the zaps that run. So I was like oh, well then there's the only thing I have to do is check the zaps run, which takes about two minutes. But it used to take me about two hours throughout the day, because you got to wait for this thing to happen and wait for this thing to happen. And once that's done, then you can only do this, oh, the only thing I haven't done is gone and press the email sent because I didn't want emails to send out blindly. So what happens is creates the email in MailChimp to send out the notification. But I want to go check that before it sends. That's the only thing I have to do entity, which I think is fantastic. I press the publish button. And I think that's the you need to have some manual steps.

Heather Bicknell 6:27
Some human oversight in the process. Yeah. How do you I'm curious, how do you I guess you know, that workflow that has steps, obviously Zapier has, you know their set of things that they integrate with? But how do you when you're looking at your workflow? How do you find opportunities for automation, because I've noticed this theme of of automating things away in some of the, you know, articles that we've been sending back and forth lately, people finding ways to, you know, cut down on their some of the busy work in their workday by setting up automations.

Ryan Purvis 7:08
Yeah, so it's funny, you mentioned that the exact example so so I've actually been working on a thing with notion and shortcuts. Where, because what happens to everyone else's benefit is you and I will read something. And I'm gonna go a little bit of tangent here. So the other thing which I've done is I've activated my my apple news subscription. Now, when Apple news first came out, I thought it was a lot of crud. But I that for some reason, I clicked on the one day and I was and I was reading through some articles, I was like, actually, this is actually not so bad. And I happen to be reading it on my iPad Pro. The only reason I say that is because of the lack of the real estate on the screen. And I actually had a vertical thing up, let you know what this is actually pretty cool. This is actually a good way to get news. Because I'm so sick and tired of trying to find news. And usually what happens is getting a rise my email, or there's some app that I'm using it that splits the Pops that up certification, but this is actually quite a pleasant experience to sit and read the thing. So So what are the ages that now when i when i read something, or you read something we kind of shared with each other iMessage. Now the problem with that is it doesn't put it into notion, so we don't actually keep track. So it's becomes very, very difficult to remember, what have we actually shared with each other because I mean, obviously can check the list in in iMessage. But if you want to make notes on it, then you got to go and copy that link out and put it into notion make notes or however you want to do but that's how I want to do. And then it's it's tricky to remember what if we actually discussed and not discussed, because obviously I'm missing shows those statuses that I'll be looking at, I'll be watching two YouTube videos on how you can set up the integration between a shortcut. So my idea is that when I see an article that I like, through through a shortcut on iOS, I will say send this to Heather. But at the same time we're sending it to Heather, it's going to go and put it into the notion table and tag it that it's come from, I think so. So you can still get an iMessage you can still use on your phone. But then there's still the entry in notion because what we do, obviously is linked that to the episode when we actually talk about. So I've been playing with that. And that's led me down the route of we are shortcuts right now. And and that's another thing that I really don't think Windows has an answer to yet. or Microsoft, at least. I mean, the the argument would be well, we've got power automate, which is a desktop component. And you can just go and do whatever you want. You can set up a screen record and go click on all budgets, and it'll work and that does work. But I think that still feels like a lot of people like way too techie. Whereas the shortcut is pretty. Yeah, I mean, as the name says, drag a few things on LinkedIn together and you pretty much got a thing working But they are very simple. And I'm curious to see how those things will develop over time. And there is talk that shortcuts will be deployed into the Mac OS system, so on your laptops and desktops based on the success of it being on the iOS devices. I didn't want your question. Sorry. So you said how do I how do I decide on these things? Well, usually with all these things, it's it's a pain, it's a frustration. And, and it's a case of knowing that this, there's got to be a better way. Now what the better way is, I don't know. But, you know, if I was walking into a business that had a business process problem, and it was a genuine, you want there to be an appetite, for something for change. The first step you do is you map it out. Now, I didn't map out any of these processes, because I do them all the time. And I kind of kind of know what they what they feel like. The reason why you map them out is typically because you have more than one person involved. So so a lot of stuff that I've been automating is personal stuff. So it's easy, but and we're touches yourself, for example, I just, I just tell you, hey, listen, in this step of the process, you need to do X. So so if you as long as you do that step, which which always try to make it as easy as possible, which could be moving the episode from one status to another status, then the process will work. And you can obviously build in flows that cater for problems and errors, but but the way I do it is I work backwards. So I go, Okay, I want to the goal for me is to to reduce my time on publishing the episode. So what is costing me the most time from from the end backwards, and then I'll work on that direction. And it gives me, you know, and I find the tools that helped me do it. So, you know, some of this is research. And this isn't done a podcast. But I'll figure out that, you know, I know the tools that I like to use, and then I'll find the connection. So Zapier is something I've looked at for years, but never really pulled the trigger on.

And what happened is basically the point that I was so frustrated with, let me try one, let me see how easy it is to build something. And I built something very stupid. I think you're sending emails to someone that I wanted to irritate. And that and that took me about 15 minutes to build up. And you know what, this is really cool. And I've been I've been playing with power automate before that, and I found that a really terrible to build something with. And in comparison, Zapier was like, you know, that aha moment? And that's how it starts. And then once you start doing that, and you start looking at everything you do, and you say, Well, can I automate, automate that just to reduce time?

Heather Bicknell 12:43
Do you think? Have you ever you know, any the places where you've worked Has anyone been, you know, responsible for overseeing, you know, the creation of things like that, is this a new job role, potentially some sort of like automation specialists that would help, you know, that would consult with different teams in the organization and figure out how to, like make those efficiency improvements, because it strikes me that there's a lot of utility in this and there are more and more tools that make it easier to do but it is very much like the burden on the individual to figure it out, find the tool, you know, connect things together. When it really seems like something that could be maybe an eyeties wheelhouse or you know, some other Technology Group,

Ryan Purvis 13:35
you typically would hear it as a lean persons coming in someone that's doing Lean Six Sigma, or a black belt or or putting your black belt first. That's like your, your most senior rank. So and this will come out of manufacturing and production. So a lot of the a lot of those areas are always looking for efficiencies and optimizations. So they all follow Lean Six Sigma, which is which is the most common framework, there's probably other ones, I don't know all of them. But I remember, you know, working in a bank and hearing about a team that was walking around trying to find efficiencies, but I worked for a software company called Global's 360, which is bought by open text, we used to do our own sort of analysis framework using some tools that we developed. And it was as basic as taking a Visio diagram using the BPMN notation which is which is an accepted notation. And drawing out the business process. Now the tool we built which was really cool, would allow you to simulate that process. So if you think about and we were focusing on core business processes, so this is things like invoice to billing, contractor billing, accounts payable, etc. Those things that if you don't do them properly and quickly will cost will shut the business down. And what we could do the simulation is we can give you scenarios to say well if you have more people processing invoices, you can you can catch up Time down from 90 days to 30 days or seven days or whatever. And your cost of an invoice might go from $50 to $100. But Your time has come down. If we give you less people, but more we use more automation, we might bring the cost of invoice down to $12 per invoice. And you know, you'll have 770 percent of the people spill or whatever the thing is, then you you basically play with a different variation and scenarios, until you get to the process that the company the business wants to like, yeah, that's our process. And then the other piece of technology was to take that process you design in Visio, exported into the workflow tool, and you start wiring up all the screens and stuff, and there's a quite a lot there around. And it was all based on Lean Six Sigma concepts, you know, shift shift left, which is to have the cheapest resource, do the do the work, then the more expensive one, and two, and then often would be the machine doing the work as opposed to a human, and then giving the right information at the right time. So the are the roles for that. And you're seeing that now in a new concept necessarily very common, which is RPA. Robotic process automation. And that's and that is the premise that I know this has matured a bit from when I was doing this probably 20 years ago, is is the screen scraping sort of application, which is to say, instead of integrating to applications using web services, or or data transfers, or whatever it is, you're going to train a RPA agent which is which is you know, for want of a better term and machine to click on the right things in a box on the screen in order to process an invoice so they'll go suck the invoice out of out of an email, which is an attachment, they'll do some sort of OCR ICR of the of the invoice, then that information will be posted into the accounting system and you've removed the human from doing that. Now that that kind of tuning is is quite effective. And is it specifically works well in the finance world where you're dealing with very structured things. Not it's not structured in the sense that it's an Excel spreadsheet structure, but it's a invoice where the information is using the same places to do zonal scanning to look for it in certain places. And you're pulling out the metadata and you're putting it into into the database. Where where it doesn't work, we still need you humans is when you need to make some decisions, whether the rules aren't clear. So let's say for example, you're processing court court documents for evidence. You might need to make a decision around what is actually going to be captured in that case versus general. I don't know. I mean, I'm gonna lose my head right now. But yeah, it's definitely a space that you hear space. It's definitely a technology area you hear a lot about, and a lot of use cases for with good returns.

Heather Bicknell 18:05
Yeah, that's interesting. Now I need to look into RPA more. But yeah, as you say, I think it seems like you know, the more the less standardized, the more you know, creative the process, there's still so harder to find really good automation solutions. I know you sent that article about automating software development. If you wanted to discuss that one a bit.

Ryan Purvis 18:38
Before we jump on that, I mean, the other thing to mention is I did a webinar with with zero. It was in July, I think we've released that recently, which we'll share as well. And that actually shows an example of an invoice being picked up from email, the actual RPA doing what it does, and processing it into the accounting system is obviously very basic example, but it just proves the concept. Yes, on the article. We just get it up quickly.

Heather Bicknell 19:11
Yeah, this was a wired article AI can write code like humans, bugs and all.

Ryan Purvis 19:17
Yes, so So this probably tied up with the GTP three, project that's been running. I'm trying to move on I read this article, and it would go. And this would cover the apple news for me. Yeah, so this is interesting, because one of the frustrations that we all have, and I say we all talk about the developers is that often the problem is not that difficult. And all you want to do is spit out the code really quickly. So what I did here is they did a project where they looked at GitHub, and they sucked in all the data to GitHub, and I think they did want to see Deck traces of tech trace, maybe secretaries. And from that Stack Overflow. So I was reading an article in the talk. And they were able to generate the most common code samples using AI, machine learning and a better recognition stuff. And they call the copilot. So this was a this is about bolt on to, to GitHub. Now we this is interesting is that when you're working with a developer, when you when you're writing code, as a developer, often you know what you want to do. And you run into a brick wall on trying to solve the problem. So you go find Google, Google the solution, and you end up finding code that matches what you're trying to do. And it's usually something along the lines is I want to do some sort of stream stream manipulation. Or I want to do something with an API or something asynchronously, and I can't get it to work. So what do you know, what does everyone else that, and then what happened is, you know, the good developers will take what they see and understand it and transition into the program. But it won't be a copy and paste, a bad developer will copy and paste it into their thing. They'll get it, they'll hack it together to get it to work, and they have no idea how it worked, but they got it to work, and then I'll move on. Both of them, both of those pods will get a result, the problem comes in is when that thing breaks, for whatever reason, and someone has to come and fix it. If they don't understand how it works. And that we have problems, that's when maintainability becomes an issue. So the idea behind using AI in this case, which which makes sense is you can generate the code from all these examples, which is it's no, it's very similar to say, transcribing a conversation between us right now, someone will have to go through it and clean it up. But you're cutting down the amount of work that you need to do because sometimes it's the biggest problem with with writing code is you got to do so much stuff around what you want to do. Almost the, the framework. So if I want to build a web page with 10 fields on it, you know, building the page and doing the 10 fields, it's not really it's not difficult to do, but it's just a pain in the ass. Because there's so many things you have to do in order to to deliver it, you really want to get into the meaty stuff. And that's where you're going to break, I think this is going to be great, because if you can generate the framework and the base of the application, and developer only has to work on the business logic that's critical for you to do this cut down the development time by like 80%.

Heather Bicknell 22:31
Yeah, definitely seems like a really powerful tool. And I guess one of the things that struck me about copilot, which is the name of the plugin, the article talks about a developer who's used it, and I just thought it was interesting that so when catching those errors, you know, when auditing and finding the things that it didn't quite get, right. It's a little bit harder to do, because I don't know if it's quite because the, it's not writing it, like a it's not thinking about in terms of human logic, or because, you know, when you're coding, I think people have, my understanding is people have some sort of, you know, their own style, you know, ways ways that they write and then common problems that they catch in their own work. So because you're looking over an AI eyes, code instead of, you know, your own, that it's harder to catch those problems.

Ryan Purvis 23:38
Yeah, and that's the thing. I mean, it's, I mean, it could be quite invasive. But the idea is that I'm really exactly sure how it works, I'd actually love to give it a go. But if you if you're writing code to do something, and it starts picking up what you're doing, and it starts filling in the gaps, we do, almost like recommendations, parties, recommendations, etc. So you want to build a database connection. here's, here's how you use what's called Entity Framework to build it. It'll go generate all the things you need to go generate. And all you're really doing is cleaning up the mess. That's That's awesome. I would love that. So yeah, I think it's gonna be a very powerful thing. Well, cool.

Heather Bicknell 24:23
Do you need to do your tie up for the day?

Ryan Purvis 24:25
Yeah, I just need to sort something out. Okay, cool. Thanks.

Heather Bicknell 24:31
Yeah. Thanks. Nice time to your own.

Ryan Purvis 24:33
today. Bye. Bye. Thank you for listening today's episode of The Big news app producer, editor. Thank you, Heather. For your hardware for this episode. Please subscribe to the series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at the DW w podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on the website WWW dot digital workspace that works. Please also visit our website www dot digital First works, and subscribe to us. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues

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