Time, and money, are unquestionably the two most valuable resources for small to medium businesses.
As the allocation of these resources to technology becomes more of a priority in the digital economy, transformation projects, depending on their scale, can make or break a small business’s bottom line.
It begs the question, how can Australian SMBs respond effectively and nimbly to the new requirements of their staff in a digital workplace, stay agile, streamline their operations, and remain competitive?
AppsForOps was founded a few years ago to provide a solution this problem. AppsForOps is an integrated suite of business apps that SMBs can use to automate their business operations.
Its cloud-hosted applications cover several common business processes: expense claims, expense pre-approvals, invoices, receipts and bills, resource schedulers, time-off tracking, timesheets and travel requests- practices that every business performs in one way or another.
From dairy farmers in New Zealand to charities in Canada, IT consultancies and architectural firms in Australia, diverse SMBs globally are responding to and embracing Sydney-based, AppsForOps’ integrated digital workplace.
Built on the secure Azure Cloud and richly integrated with Office 365, AppsForOps is allowing SMBs to focus on what they do best, reducing the time and money spent on the admin-heavy, yet critical back-end that keeps their businesses ticking along.
As AppsForOps CEO and Co-founder Shaun Leisegang has learnt, every business, regardless of size, is working toward efficiencies in operations.
Shaun says, “They want complete visibility of their organisational and operational data, they want it all together, and they want to derive and action insights that will ultimately benefit and grow their business. They also want to channel their time and money in the most effective and profitable way possible.”
Building the integrated, digital workplace
While most of the current workflow management applications available today are narrowly focused, AppsForOps brings fundamental business processes all together.
The various applications can work seamlessly together, and are also designed to stand alone. This means businesses can start with one and then deploy more, as and when they need them.
The applications are fully configurable to suit the needs of each business, and can be tailored to suit different work-flows and levels of approvals using visual prompts, with no coding required.
Accessible through either a web-based portal or via a mobile app, Shaun states, “The goal has been to provide a simple platform for SMBs to adopt; with minimal time spent on set-up. No development is needed from the customer side, and businesses can easily configure AppsForOps to run their business, their way.”
Actions like viewing staff leave and being able to schedule and assign tasks to employees when they’re actually available is also far simpler with the platform.
“You very quickly see how all those worlds start to come together and the applications we’ve chosen have been very specific to solving the scenarios we see on a daily basis in the SMB sector.”
Adapting to the changing nature of work
Recognising the changing nature of how employees like to work, the AppsForOps platform has been built on Microsoft technology, richly integrated with Office 365, to provide tools in familiar working environments.
“If you look at Microsoft Teams, for example, people might be working in that and collaborating with colleagues, sharing documents, sharing information, and what we wanted was to provide them with the capability to be able to request time off straight from that environment.”
In the later stages of creating AppsForOps for Outlook, Shaun and his team are also prioritising an Outlook add-in that allows users to view tasks directly in their inbox, track expenses and time off requests, and approve any of those directly from Outlook.
The platform is also designed to offer a consumer-like app store experience.
Shaun describes, “Similar to a Yammer feed, instead of actually receiving all-company emails around an issue or communication, users can control preferences, set up polls, and categorise newsfeed items inside the AppsForOps platform by deciding how they would like to subscribe to specific events and topics.”
“This creates a central hub where people want to go, to communicate and collaborate.”
Built on the Microsoft Bot Framework, AppsForOps Bot also allows the company to spin up bot conversations within services like Skype, Microsoft Teams or Facebook Messenger.
“With the platform’s bot functionality, international, non-English speaking users can leverage the translation services, speak their local language to the bot and receive instructions back in that same language.”
AppsForOps 101 is a Windows application that provides nice walkthroughs and demos of anything from expense claims to timesheets.
By integrating with Office 365, a very familiar set of productivity tools, users can be up and running with AppsForOps quickly.
“People love and use services like Outlook every day. We don’t want them to have to go somewhere else. We want to be able to provide them that enhancement and added capability from directly inside that environment, and that’s exactly what Office 365 gives us. It gives us a global footprint of customers that know how those tools work and the ability to actually enhance and extend those tools with some great capabilities for AppsForOps.”
The significance of building on a global, trusted cloud
“We decided very early on that we were going to be a 100 per cent, cloud- based business,” explains Shaun.
The chosen, trusted, and secure cloud was Microsoft Azure and Office 365. The platform is also tightly integrated with accounting software from Xero and leverages a wide variety of platform capabilities provided by its strategic technology alliance partner K2.
“Our global ambitions meant we needed to be able to set up infrastructure in data centres or AppsForOps ‘farms’ in different locations around the world. With Xero and Microsoft, at the flick of a virtual switch we can set up data centres anywhere in their global networks and effectively sell to the largest audience possible.”
The sensitive nature of much of the company information stored by AppsForOps has been handled with the encryption technology available in Microsoft SQL Server.
Bots and the future
The next step for AppsForOps is making their Bot even more intelligent.
The AI capabilities of Microsoft Cognitive Services means that soon, users can speak in natural language to the Bot and either type in, or ask questions directly through Cortana.
AppsForOps is also considering integration with other finance systems like MYOB or QuickBooks.
“We’re exploring so many things on Microsoft Dynamics, but the one that’s come up quite a bit is QuickBooks from Intuit and MYOB here in Australia as well. Lots of customers are asking for that. We’re exploring all of those things and plotting them onto a roadmap.”
Right now, AppsForOps is prioritising listening to what customers are saying, how they’re using the technology, and then leveraging that information to build some great applications in response.
Why Australia is primed for the technology
Australia is a prime market for AppsForOps because in a country where people and resourcing is expensive, there’s an even greater need to automate and digitise as much as you can to minimise time that you’re paying people to do repetitive tasks.
“I truly believe that the platform has massive capabilities to solve a lot of problems that small and medium businesses have and to automate tasks and allow them to focus on what they do best, which is their core business. This will take away a lot of pain for them,” says Shaun.
Throughout AppsForOps own journey to innovation, he declares, “Microsoft has been superb. Whenever we’ve needed something, they’ve been there, and we’ve worked closely with them to scale and build our business from the ground-up. It’s been, and will continue to be, an exciting partnership.”