Automated and ambitious: Web Wonks springboards to the US on the Power Platform

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

As any advertiser knows, television, print and billboards have given way to the digital wave, with social media, retargeting and SEO essential to any advertising strategy. This is creative analytics agency Web Wonks’ forte, ensuring businesses get the most eyeballs for their money. However, disjointed workflow processes behind the scenes were creating back office backlogs. Enter Microsoft’s Power Platform. With a little low-code/no-code magic and a lot of vision, Web Wonks is now more efficient, more automated, and ready to tackle the US with some home-grown software innovations.

People talk about the digital revolution, where whole new industries that couldn’t have been imagined a generation before rise from the waves of creative energy and take over the globe. Web Wonks is a perfect example, built for the digital era to help other businesses maximise their online advertising. Since humble beginnings in 2010, the company has grown to 27 staff across New Zealand, the Philippines and India, with 300 clients.

But what makes Web Wonks different from other digital advertising agencies is that instead of telling clients where to spend their advertising dollars, Web Wonks empowers its clients to manage their own placement. It uses Microsoft analytics and business intelligence tools to show clients exactly where their money is having the greatest impact.

While Web Wonks had its offering well and truly mastered, however, its internal workflow system was another story. A lot of information was fragmented, being stored in different places that made insights about workflows hard to gather. And too much management time was being spent manually assigning tasks to employees, also making it difficult to plan ahead.

“We had over 1,200 individual tasks that had to be manually allocated to employees each month. We’d still be allocating tasks 10 days into the new month and we knew there had to be a better way to do it,” says Jeff McGregor, founder and CEO of Web Wonks.

The other pressing issue was that Web Wonks was outsourcing a lot of the IT management and coding relating to its internal systems, which was leading to scope creep and cost blowouts. Web Wonks needed a streamlined system with all client details and tasks in one coherent place, which it could manage for itself. This new platform needed to be capable of automating a lot of the daily activities that were adding so much stress to workforce management and clouding forecasts.

And one more thing. With Jeff and the Web Wonks team planning for global growth, it also needed to scale and translate overseas, enabling Web Wonks to create a franchise network in new markets with a scalable, repeatable framework for local operators to build on.

“For me, it’s about enabling local franchises to employ more people and grow the local economy for the benefit of the community they live in,” says Jeff.

And it was Microsoft’s similar commitment to the local communities it operates in that got Jeff’s attention.

“I was impressed to learn that Microsoft was investing significantly in New Zealand via a local hyperscale datacenter region, which resonated with my own aspirations. For me, that was the inspiration to approach Microsoft for a solution,” he says.

Low-code/no-code – the secret code to success

Microsoft’s Power Platform provided the ideal low-code/no-code solution to Web Wonks’ workflow issues. Using a Power Platform app, Jeff was able to build the internal business interface from scratch to a precise design. He created data tables to represent all the information he wanted to pull together – so whether it was client name, ID code, task or budget, every piece of information was in one place. “I’d never used the Microsoft Power Platform before. But with it being low-code/no-code I realised that while the tasks it managed were complex, it was fairly easy for me to understand the concepts with a basic level of IT knowledge.” says Jeff.

Once everything was in the new interface, the next step was to automate key workflows, using Power Automate. They found a Microsoft Gold Certified partner to build one simple flow so the Web Wonks team knew how it would work, then engineered built the rest themselves. The real challenge was navigating how to allocate the incredible 1,200 monthly individual tasks. Instead of laboriously poring over the team’s calendars and working out who with the right capabilities was available to take on a job, Microsoft’s smart technology could do it all in an instant.

To do this, Web Wonks linked the system to each staff member’s calendar using Open Graphics API and built a web app on Microsoft Azure that would automatically allocate jobs to a relevant staff member with the right capacity and skills.

“This step was probably one of the most complex, as we had to reference multiple tables at once. But once we cracked it, we knew we were going in the right direction. This is when the champagne corks were popped as we realised global scalability was possible,” says Jeff.

Once the workflows were sorted, it was important to connect all that work with payments. So, Web Wonks created another Power App to generate automatic client quotes and invoices based on the work in the system. This meant creating new data tables with information about the elements of each project, due dates and client contacts. Jeff and his team taught the system to automatically pull this data to generate a quote and export it to Xero as soon as a task had been completed.

They also created an automatic email capability inside the system where they could see history of correspondence, time sheets, notes and work stream briefs referenced to the project within the portal. This provided a 360-degree view of the relationship, all housed within the one platform.

Finally, Web Wonks switched to Microsoft Teams for all communications. Operating across four countries makes great communication and co-ordination a challenge, but having Microsoft solutions across the rest of the back office functions made choosing Teams the logical next move . Files were migrated to SharePoint and staff were given Microsoft 365 access, meaning Web Wonks’ internal system became fully Microsoft-led. “I expected the whole project would take 24 months. Instead it took six months, at a quarter of the budget,” Jeff says.

The art of making time

Since going with Power Platform, Web Wonks’ second business is manufacturing time.

“Under the old manual system, onboarding a new project and creating all the unique task identities would take five hours. Of around 800 possible tasks, each project might use around 75, which all had to be manually selected and added to people’s workflows. With Power Automate, it takes five minutes. That’s 250 hours eradicated per month and it requires no human input,” says Jeff.

Generating quotes manually used to take 15-20 hours per month – now it’s all automatic, as is generating project plans and reports to show clients, tracking exactly what’s been delivered and when.

Meanwhile the Remus app, one of several Web Wonks has created in Azure, flags any overdue projects to the management team so tasks can be reallocated if necessary, without all the manual follow-up.

And in business, time means money. Modernising the back office has seen net profit skyrocket by 20 per cent, by enabling better forward planning and greater focus on strategy.

“The benefits of our migration have been pronounced. Our team are now able to spend far less time assigning tasks and more time doing what’s important – helping our clients to get the results they need – and we’re now so much more efficient in the way we deliver work,” says Jeff.

Taking tech innovation back to America

Since migration, Web Wonks has had a whopping 300,000 records for tasks accrued in just seven months. This means it now has a dataset big enough to take advantage of machine learning to automate and optimise tasks even further, identifying which tasks are most common and how long they take.

But the most exciting part is planning for US expansion, having developed and proven a platform that can deploy anywhere.

“There are huge opportunities for us in the US, because unlike manufacturing where they are vastly superior to New Zealand, we are on equal footing due to the internet. We’ve been able to take the amazing products the US has given the world, including the Microsoft Stack, and we’re making them even better and taking them back to the States,” Jeff says.

This is music to the ears of Microsoft SaaS Partner Lead, Hayley Horan, who has watched several businesses transition from tech customers to software innovators like Web Wonks.

“One of the most exciting trends at the moment is seeing non-tech businesses embrace low-code or no-code technologies such as the Power Platform and productise them in a way that provides other New Zealand companies with tools that help them grow. I’m passionate about creating an ecosystem of SaaS innovation in Aotearoa that raises the tide for the whole sector and sees more businesses like Web Wonks succeed in new markets,” she says.

“Jeff and his team are a fine example of what a can-do attitude and willingness to innovate can achieve, creating new income streams and opening doors for others at the same time.”

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