Author Topic: Automation Tools for Your Business  (Read 1267 times)

Michael in ABQ

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Automation Tools for Your Business
« on: September 19, 2021, 11:59:56 AM »
I recently purchased an ecommerce business and I find myself doing a lot of repetitive tasks that I know can be automated or handed off to an employee. I'm wondering what others are using successfully - or have tried to use and found lacking.

I've been looking at Zapier and understand it can connect a lot of things that may not have built in integrations. I.e. it can automatically download an attachment from Gmail and save it to a folder in DropBox.

One workflow I'm dealing with that I would like to automate is that I get emailed an invoice from a supplier and want to pull out several data points from the PDF and copy those into a spreadsheet - or ideally straight into Quickbooks Online. The complicated part is there are about 25 different suppliers and each one formats their invoices differently. I've been exploring some OCR tools and found some that look pretty good but are either very expensive ($500/month+), unpriced (and therefore probably too expensive for my needs), or like Amazon Amazon Textract are very cheap but require way more setup and knowledge of AWS than I possess. One supplier sends 2-3 invoices a month, another sends 50-100. Most are machine readable PDFs but at least one supplier scans documents that look like they're printed on a pre-made form with dot matrix printer so the formatting/alignment isn't always correct.

I know I could probably hire a VA for $500-700/month to do this but I like the idea of automating it with the various software tools available - potentially for a cost of just a couple hundred dollars per month - and with far more scalability. The downside with any of these options is just the upfront time spent getting it up and working.

Joel

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2021, 12:27:10 PM »
Iíve used Bill.com to really help streamline payables processes. Not 100% automated, but saves significant processing time at a larger company when I had a dedicated payables staff.

2Birds1Stone

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2021, 02:19:56 PM »
I was in the RPA industry for a few years, sounds like similar use cases to what we used/sold. A developer license to those tools is usually free. Ymmv

Archipelago

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2021, 12:36:44 PM »
Hey, I can give a shout out for docparser.com. I used it at a previous job.

You set up rules for your documents (plus all their variations), those rules grab the text/info you want to retain, then format it to your liking. The output generally comes in a .csv file, and you can set up integrations to have the info save elsewhere (Google Sheets is a good option). Not the most user friendly to get everything set up but I could always lend you a hand with it. And I'll mention the customer support is very responsive and effective. It works best for standardized documents (as opposed to scanned ones), but the OCR is very good in my experience.

They have different tiers of pricing depending on volume. If you're doing 100-500 documents a month it's something like $33 bucks. Pretty good value prop.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2021, 12:38:29 PM by Archipelago »

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2021, 03:28:44 PM »
Hey, I can give a shout out for docparser.com. I used it at a previous job.

You set up rules for your documents (plus all their variations), those rules grab the text/info you want to retain, then format it to your liking. The output generally comes in a .csv file, and you can set up integrations to have the info save elsewhere (Google Sheets is a good option). Not the most user friendly to get everything set up but I could always lend you a hand with it. And I'll mention the customer support is very responsive and effective. It works best for standardized documents (as opposed to scanned ones), but the OCR is very good in my experience.

They have different tiers of pricing depending on volume. If you're doing 100-500 documents a month it's something like $33 bucks. Pretty good value prop.

That's one I was looking at. It seemed to work alright but I uploaded too many documents at first to try it out and burned through the limit of 30 on the free plan before I saw if it could handle multiple formats. I'm also looking at nanonets.com which is $500/month but they'll give me a discount of $2,500/year for a starter plan that's 500 documents/month if I provide a case study/testimonial. I've got a call setup tomorrow so I'll see. It seems like an easier interface but I'm not quite sure I'm ready to drop that much cash all at once.

Archipelago

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2021, 08:25:35 PM »
Hey, I can give a shout out for docparser.com. I used it at a previous job.

You set up rules for your documents (plus all their variations), those rules grab the text/info you want to retain, then format it to your liking. The output generally comes in a .csv file, and you can set up integrations to have the info save elsewhere (Google Sheets is a good option). Not the most user friendly to get everything set up but I could always lend you a hand with it. And I'll mention the customer support is very responsive and effective. It works best for standardized documents (as opposed to scanned ones), but the OCR is very good in my experience.

They have different tiers of pricing depending on volume. If you're doing 100-500 documents a month it's something like $33 bucks. Pretty good value prop.

That's one I was looking at. It seemed to work alright but I uploaded too many documents at first to try it out and burned through the limit of 30 on the free plan before I saw if it could handle multiple formats. I'm also looking at nanonets.com which is $500/month but they'll give me a discount of $2,500/year for a starter plan that's 500 documents/month if I provide a case study/testimonial. I've got a call setup tomorrow so I'll see. It seems like an easier interface but I'm not quite sure I'm ready to drop that much cash all at once.

Try setting up the rules on Docparser the best you can, then email support with clear instructions what you're looking for. They'll go into your account and adjust the rules for you. $33/month is much better than $500/month.

evme

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2021, 01:29:18 AM »
Congrats on your new business. Care to share about the process of how you purchased it? Did you go through a broker for example? **EDIT: saw your post elsewhere about the process**

Several years ago I hired someone on freelancer.com (I think that was the website) to build a custom software widget to automate some processes. I made the mistake of going with the lowest bid. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for and the guy was constantly asking for additional funds throughout the process. I realized his bid was unrealistically low and should have known better than to accept it. Anyway, if you go this route my advice is go for someone with good feedback and NOT the cheapest bid.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2021, 01:31:29 AM by evme »

katsiki

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2021, 09:26:37 AM »
I was in the RPA industry for a few years, sounds like similar use cases to what we used/sold. A developer license to those tools is usually free. Ymmv

Interesting thread.  If you are interested in RPA, I briefly looked into that for work a while back.  Two vendors to consider..

Microsoft PowerAutomate
Nintex


Michael in ABQ

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2021, 04:10:02 PM »
Hey, I can give a shout out for docparser.com. I used it at a previous job.

You set up rules for your documents (plus all their variations), those rules grab the text/info you want to retain, then format it to your liking. The output generally comes in a .csv file, and you can set up integrations to have the info save elsewhere (Google Sheets is a good option). Not the most user friendly to get everything set up but I could always lend you a hand with it. And I'll mention the customer support is very responsive and effective. It works best for standardized documents (as opposed to scanned ones), but the OCR is very good in my experience.

They have different tiers of pricing depending on volume. If you're doing 100-500 documents a month it's something like $33 bucks. Pretty good value prop.

That's one I was looking at. It seemed to work alright but I uploaded too many documents at first to try it out and burned through the limit of 30 on the free plan before I saw if it could handle multiple formats. I'm also looking at nanonets.com which is $500/month but they'll give me a discount of $2,500/year for a starter plan that's 500 documents/month if I provide a case study/testimonial. I've got a call setup tomorrow so I'll see. It seems like an easier interface but I'm not quite sure I'm ready to drop that much cash all at once.

I think I'd need the Docparser plan that's at least $60/month, maybe $133. This other company works out to bit more than $200/month (both prices based on an annual plan). However, this solution from Nanonets does seem more robust. They've got a direct integration with Quickbooks Online and Zapier and will also have their internal team handle training the machine learning interface on the 20+ different invoice formats. That saves me a lot of upfront time. Basically I just tell them what data fields I need (purchase order number, invoice date, total cost, shipping cost, invoice number, etc.) and they'll take care of the rest.

My wife and I are going to discuss it tonight as that was an expense I didn't include in my original budget. That's something that I'd never heard mentioned as a downside about drop shipping - the sheer number of invoices. I guess if you're drop shipping something like trampolines, or furniture, or other relatively expensive items it's not that big of deal. However, we sometimes end up drop shipping a product that only costs $10 or less as a few of our suppliers don't charge us any drop ship fee or markup on the shipping.

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2021, 08:38:16 AM »
I dug into this a bit more and setup a simple automation in Microsoft Power Automate with OneDrive. Basically if I forwarded an email that included the words "invoice" and one of my suppliers it would save it in that supplier's folder in OneDrive.

However, as I explore some of these options it seems like I will probably be better served hiring a remote worker for $600/month to get 40 hours a week than paying $50/month here and $200/month there for various partial automation solutions. The reality is that to process all the invoices I get from my suppliers each month might take 15-20 hours total each month. Why pay hundreds of dollars for some partial automation solutions that are not going to be able to handle something like a supplier forgetting to enter a Purchase Order number? A person can recognize that and go search for that customer's name in an email and find the right PO. To automate something like that would never be cost effective. Meanwhile, that employee can work on multiple other things once they get through those invoices - tasks that are not as easy to automate.

I really like the idea of setting up automation, but it obviously makes a lot more sense at scale if you're processing hundreds or thousands of identical forms a day vs getting 10-15 total invoices in 5 or 6 different formats.

Archipelago

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2021, 09:00:23 AM »
I dug into this a bit more and setup a simple automation in Microsoft Power Automate with OneDrive. Basically if I forwarded an email that included the words "invoice" and one of my suppliers it would save it in that supplier's folder in OneDrive.

However, as I explore some of these options it seems like I will probably be better served hiring a remote worker for $600/month to get 40 hours a week than paying $50/month here and $200/month there for various partial automation solutions. The reality is that to process all the invoices I get from my suppliers each month might take 15-20 hours total each month. Why pay hundreds of dollars for some partial automation solutions that are not going to be able to handle something like a supplier forgetting to enter a Purchase Order number? A person can recognize that and go search for that customer's name in an email and find the right PO. To automate something like that would never be cost effective. Meanwhile, that employee can work on multiple other things once they get through those invoices - tasks that are not as easy to automate.

I really like the idea of setting up automation, but it obviously makes a lot more sense at scale if you're processing hundreds or thousands of identical forms a day vs getting 10-15 total invoices in 5 or 6 different formats.

Your reasoning is sound. If you can justify the cost for a remote employee, go for it. If you go the automation tool route, I should mention Docparser can handle multiple formats. It's just a matter of setting up the rules to recognize the formats you throw at it. It's not a walk in the park to set it up, but once it's dialed in, I found it works effectively.

Sugaree

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2021, 09:20:49 AM »
So, if your invoices are all readable (i.e. they are sending you pdfs that you can copy and paste data out of) and each supplier is consistent with their formatting there is a piece of software called Monarch Pro that will let you build a model for each supplier to pull the data out of each supplier's invoice.  It used to be sold by a company called Datawatch, but I think they may be owned by Altair now.  It may be more expensive than what you're looking for for just a few invoices a month though. 

Michael in ABQ

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2021, 10:10:27 AM »
So, if your invoices are all readable (i.e. they are sending you pdfs that you can copy and paste data out of) and each supplier is consistent with their formatting there is a piece of software called Monarch Pro that will let you build a model for each supplier to pull the data out of each supplier's invoice.  It used to be sold by a company called Datawatch, but I think they may be owned by Altair now.  It may be more expensive than what you're looking for for just a few invoices a month though.

That's the issue. One supplier - our largest one - prints the invoices onto a pre-formatted form and scans them back in. They're pretty old school. So they're not readable and they way they print them even OCR is not always accurate if the paper feed in slightly crooked and part of a number is on a line, etc. For the other suppliers, each one uses a different format so the information is in different places - or sometimes it's not included on the invoice.

Sugaree

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Re: Automation Tools for Your Business
« Reply #13 on: October 26, 2021, 10:42:06 AM »
So, if your invoices are all readable (i.e. they are sending you pdfs that you can copy and paste data out of) and each supplier is consistent with their formatting there is a piece of software called Monarch Pro that will let you build a model for each supplier to pull the data out of each supplier's invoice.  It used to be sold by a company called Datawatch, but I think they may be owned by Altair now.  It may be more expensive than what you're looking for for just a few invoices a month though.

That's the issue. One supplier - our largest one - prints the invoices onto a pre-formatted form and scans them back in. They're pretty old school. So they're not readable and they way they print them even OCR is not always accurate if the paper feed in slightly crooked and part of a number is on a line, etc. For the other suppliers, each one uses a different format so the information is in different places - or sometimes it's not included on the invoice.

That's rough.  I'm not sure how much automation is possible with something like that.  If you have enough work other work for someone to flesh out 40 hours a week, that's cool.  In your position I might look into what it takes to become a requester on Mechanical Turk.