Solving Your Time Consuming Manual Workflow

At CBRE Build, we’re a diverse company with a mixture of production, account management, and engineering workflows. Typically the applications we use for different aspects of our process don’t work together, and our lives would be so much easier if they did. With some integration software and careful planning, we did just that. We’ve saved a significant amount of time and effort by automating our processes, getting our applications to feed information to each other, and adding functionality that wasn’t already there.

We hope this post will get you thinking about how you can make your own lives easier, and give you some general tips to help you along the way.

Start with the right applications:

I won’t spend too much time on this aspect of the process. Each user will have different needs that will work best with different applications, and some of you will have already established systems you’re working to supplement or change. I will say this: Don’t be afraid to put in the work to migrate to a new system if it will be easier to use, and don’t assume the one you’re using, or one of the first you try, is going to be the best for you. I would suggest trying a minimum of 3 applications, trying to setup the basics of your system in each to find which works best.

At Build we use Airtable, Trello, Dropbox, Salesforce, Intercom, Slack, Typeform and occasionally Google Sheets. This is by no means a plug for these softwares, these were just most compatible with our workflow.

Selecting your integration software:

There are a lot of different integration softwares out there, each with their own features and specialities. I have 3 outlined below, but there are plenty more.

  • Zapier: Great for beginners, setup is guided and somewhat rigid. More complex integrations may require javascript or python use. (In use at Build)
  • Tray.io: Another good option for beginners. Visual tree type connections, setup is still guided.
  • Automate.io: Great for more advanced users who want more custom functionality and don’t mind getting into javascript or python.

The key here will be not only to pick which will work best for you as a user, but which option can integrate with the software you use. The websites for these integration softwares usually have a well kept list of softwares they work with. Keep an eye out for softwares that are listed as “Premium Integrations” as these can cost you an additional fee to use. Salesforce is a prime example.

An example Zapier integration.  It includes a trigger from Airtable, a Filter to “continue only if…”, and an action to update an Airtable record.

An example Zapier integration. It includes a trigger from Airtable, a Filter to “continue only if…”, and an action to update an Airtable record.

Strategize your integrations:

I’ve generalized three main ways to use integration software:

  • Integrating different softwares to work together
  • Automating a specific process
  • Supplementing software by adding functionality

The first step to any integration will be strategizing the steps and variables needed. This process will be familiar to those with programming experience, as the logic is similar. We’ll start with the above Zapier image as a simple example. My goal for this integration was to add a functionality to Airtable, adding a timestamp for when a project’s phase was changed to “Complete.” This would give us a completion time we could use for filters later, but wasn’t something we could do in Airtable innately.

The variable I’m trying to solve for is the “Completion Time” field in Airtable. My steps are pretty simple here: When the record is marked as complete, the current date is recorded in my “Completion Time” for that field. This integration is pretty simple, but going through this process for more complicated cases may save you a lot of time while figuring out your integrations!

Working Within Software Limits:

Unfortunately, the interaction between softwares isn’t always so direct. Integration softwares like Zapier, and apps within Zapier like Airtable, have a limited number of actions and events you can use. The steps you’ve strategized will still be useful, but you may have to get creative to accomplish those steps within these limits.

For example, there is no event for changing an Airtable’s project phase to complete in Zapier. Instead, I had to create a view in Airtable for completed projects only, and using new data added to this data range as my trigger. I’ve also added an additional filter step to Zapier, stopping the process from overwriting any existing dates.

You may have to find work arounds like this often. Don’t be hesitant to get creative with your solutions, test ideas, or add extra steps or filters to get the necessary solutions. You may also be able to find javascript or python code snippets online that can be used to add simplistic actions to your integrations.

Some Examples from Around Build:

  • Client Submissions:

    Clients submit a typeform project request including documentation. The fields are automatically added to our account keeping records, a Trello card is generated for the project, and the file is transferred to Dropbox.

  • Slack Notifications:

    Whenever we receive a request or message on Intercom, an automated message will appear in the relevant slack channel, notifying the team.

  • Salesforce Entries:

    New Salesforce project emails are added to our account keeping records and a project card is created in Trello.

  • Automated Trello Boards:

    We have multiple Trello boards in use among different teams to compartmentalize projects and data. When one card is on multiple boards, any changes or updates in status are automatically transferred to the other boards. This makes sure all teams have the most up to date information and status of a project.

Conclusion:

As everyone has different needs, I can’t give you a template to use that solves all your problems. Each system will need to be developed for its own needs. Start from the beginning, picking the applications and integration systems that will be best for you. Strategize your integrations, plan ahead, and don’t be afraid to experiment or be creative to find solutions.

Good luck, I hope integrations can be as successful and time saving for you as they were for my team!

Kyle is a Plans Production Manager at CBRE Build. His position within the Plans product is a fusion of account management and production. He talks to clients to get information for his team about a given project, but also puts that information to work while creating testfits and programs.