3 Predictions That Redefine Project Management Automation for SMBs

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Small businesses know that their survival hangs on being profitable—or at the very least, breaking even. In a Gartner survey of 699 small and midsize businesses (SMBs) in the U.S., leaders mention that “growing revenue” is their top business goal.

Every small business has different sources of revenue. However, SMBs that generate more revenue are often those that successfully eliminate wasteful processes. According to studies, inefficient business processes “cost many organizations as much as 20% to 30% of their revenue each year.”

In a small business setting, the major cause of inefficiencies are labor-intensive processes, such as using spreadsheets to track tasks, employee hours, and other project management processes. It takes employees hours to do all this in Excel!

One way that SMBs can drastically improve their efficiency is by using the right technologies to automate all manual processes.

Project management automation

A Salesforce survey of nearly 500 small business owners and leaders notes that automation is a growing trend among many SMBs. It says that many growing small businesses are “likely to be using or investigating” technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and connected applications to expand process automation.

Project management is one of the processes that small businesses are automating using new technologies such as AI-powered chatbots, drones, and predictive analytics. This report looks at how SMBs can leverage these three technologies to boost efficiency and increase revenue.

Prediction 1: Conversation UIs (chatbots) will automate team collaboration

Conversation user interfaces (UI) fall into two buckets: voice assistants and chatbots. Both are AI-powered tools that are radically changing how humans interact with computing devices.

A popular example of a voice assistant is Amazon’s Alexa, which can create to-do lists, set task alerts, and even make purchases. Then there’s the thriving “chatbots directory” in Slack’s project collaboration tool that automates tasks as varied as tracking employee attendance and scheduling team lunches.

Benefits for SMBs

Small businesses can leverage conversation user interface (UI) technologies to reduce the time and effort needed to execute different project management tasks.

That said, project management voice assistant technology is still in the nascent stage, and accessible via only Alexa or Google Home-enabled devices.

Not surprisingly then, chatbots are leading project management automation. They help small businesses automate repetitive tasks such as tracking the project status with simple text commands.

Chatbots are suitable for small businesses because they are relatively easy to build, thanks to easily available beginner guides and relatively inexpensive third-party chatbot platforms such as fireflies.ai and stratejos.ai.

Chatbots also offer many benefits such as increasing efficiency, reducing the time required to organize meetings or set up task reminders, deriving insights from data, and tracking top-performing project members.

It’s startling to think about how far conversation UI technologies, especially chatbots, have come in a short time. A Gartner report predicts that “in 2020, more bots and chatbots will be built and deployed across the globe than new mobile apps that year” (content available to Gartner clients).

To put the above prediction into context, a Statista report reveals that 6,140 Android apps were released per day in just Q1 2018. Based on this data, we can estimate that a staggering average of 12,000 chatbots will be built per day by Q1 2020!

Small businesses should definitely jump onto this bandwagon. According to a Software Advice estimate, SMBs will implement conversational UIs by 2021 to enhance the efficiency of their internal and external processes. SMBs should start leveraging this technology, starting with chatbots, to automate tasks and business processes.

Here’s an example of a small marketing agency that uses a Slackbot to reduce the manual effort in promoting content on social media channels:

case study banner
Chatbots automate content posting; ease collaboration

 BEFORE CONVERSATION UI:  Ladder.io, a Washington D.C.,-based digital growth marketing firm, faced challenges with employees collaborating to post social content, as the team was spread across the globe. The different time zones made it tough to coordinate the right time to post content.

 AFTER CONVERSATION UI:  To tackle the issue, Ladder.io used the Howdy chatbot to automate its social content posting processes. The employees followed a three step-method to automate the content posting process that could be easily repeated:

  • They added instructions for team members on what content to share, the name of the social channel, etc. in a Google spreadsheet.
  • They linked this sheet with a task workflow for the Howdy chatbot by “training” it in the Slack channel using custom slash command scripts.
  • Finally, they ran the bot in Slack, which notified all the employees and sent them multiple reminders for a response.

Implementing the chatbot resulted in a 225% increase in content sharing.

Recommended actions:

  • Identify areas of improvement in your project management process. Are employees consistently missing their task deadlines? A chatbot for automating task due date reminders might do the job. But if you need to identify the inherent risks to a project, then chatbots may not be so useful. In this case, you need project management solutions that offer risk management capabilities. The bottom line is to use chatbots for automating tasks that are static and repetitive in nature.
  • Try out different chatbot integrations, especially if you’re trying out chatbots for the first time. Don’t try to build one from scratch. Instead, use a plug-and-play chatbot integration offered by platforms such as fireflies.ai and stratejos.ai. This will help you understand the business benefits of these tools.

Prediction 2: Drones will automate construction project management

Drones have found use in various industries, including agriculture, insurance, and even news organizations. One industry that has recently been much in the news for using drones is construction.

A Dronelife.com report talks about the many uses of drones in construction for:

  • Jobsite surveying: Mapping a site is now fast and easy as well as more accurate with the help of drones.
  • Measuring materials: Estimating the stockpiles of construction materials such as sand and gravel is quicker and more accurate.
  • 3D modelling of topography: Converting aerial images of structures and landscapes into 3D models is easy as drone software are integrated with standard designing tools.

Benefits for SMBs

Since 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted many exemptions on the use of personal drones, making them inexpensive and available for commercial purposes.

In a report that covers technologies being used by small businesses, Tirena Dingeldein, content manager at Capterra, stresses that small businesses that sell products and have a supply chain process should start considering drone technology.

With favorable federal regulations, drone technology has come very far in just a few years. The time is right for small construction businesses to leverage this technology and gain immediate business benefits that include:

  • Automating information gathering: Using drones, you can quickly capture images of the topography that would otherwise have taken days on foot.
  • Detecting jobsite threats: As surveillance systems, drones can survey the construction area and alert the crew and clients about any problems that could result in project delays. For instance, drones can help identify soil contamination caused by industrial or agricultural chemicals.

Explaining why SMBs should use drones, Eileen O’Loughlin, senior content analyst at Software Advice, says that “the blurring of the line between personal drones and commercial purposes puts this technology squarely into the hands of small construction firms, and makes the use of drones in construction a smart investment for SMBs.”

A Software Advice report on the top technology disruptors for SMBs estimates that many businesses will deploy drone variants by 2022 to achieve strategic advantages in their industry. Gartner forecasts that by 2019 (content available to Gartner clients), at least 10% of personal drones will service both personal and commercial needs.

Small construction businesses should definitely consider drone technology because it’s affordable and accessible.

Here’s a case study of how a contractor used drones for volumetric measurement, resulting in huge cost savings:

Case study graphicDrones save costs via accurate volumetric measurements

 BEFORE DRONES:  A high-rise site in Virginia needed to detect soil contamination. The contractor had the difficult task of measuring the exact amount of soil that need to be hauled out from the busy site.

 AFTER DRONES:  To solve the issue, they contracted Uplift Data Partners (UDP), a drone service provider. The company flew drones over the construction site to conduct accurate volume measurements of the contaminated soil and track the amount that needed to be hauled offsite.

The key benefits were:

  • Precious employee time was saved from having to perform calculations as the drones automated onsite surveying and measured the exact volume of the contaminated soil.
  • Accurate measurements of the volume were captured as the drones were more precise than human calculations.

The final result was cost savings of $32,000, which came from saving hours and hours of employee time. The contractor was able to easily handle the clearing out of the contaminated soil each day once the drones calculated the exact volume.

In addition, outsourcing a drone company helped the contractor save money that would have gone to buy the hardware and associated technology. It was a quick fix, but also cost effective.

Recommended actions:

  • Outsource drone services, since using them requires hardware (actual drones), the drone software that integrates with your construction project management software, and an FAA licensed drone pilot. SMBs like yours may not be able to afford all this in the beginning. Outsourcing will help overcome the initial hassles of procuring specialized technology and trained personnel.
  • Evaluate drone software vendors carefully. Before selecting a vendor, ask for details of the software functionalities offered and examples of real life scenarios to understand how the software can meet your unique business needs.

Prediction 3: Predictive analytics will automate decision making

Predictive analytics help businesses make quick, data-driven decisions to manage resources. It’s done with the use of techniques such as regression analysis and predictive modeling.

For example, businesses can run simulations of “what if” scenarios and forecast outcomes such as, What if a software developer does not make it to work this week? Or What if we outsource a part of the project to a third party?

Besides using “what if” scenarios to understand the impact of a decision on project budgets and timelines, predictive analytics help businesses make faster decisions on resource allocation. It’s done using dashboards that help companies visualize employee skills, roles, and departments.

Benefits for SMBs

Manually tracking resources using Excel sheets is not only cumbersome, but also prone to errors. The inaccurate estimations of resources result in project deadline delays, which can ultimately lead to loss of business. This will prove costly for small businesses that usually have a small clientele.

Using predictive analytics to forecast resource risks that can negatively impact a project helps small businesses better allocate their resources. Project management tools with a built-in or integrated predictive analytics functionality can help SMBs make smart decisions that lead to many benefits, such as:

  • Identifying and preparing for project risks with “what-if” scenarios
  • Reducing costs that result from employees not being aligned to relevant tasks based on their availability, skills, and experience
  • Ensuring timely project delivery by correctly estimating task timelines
  • Understanding effective resource utilization with predictive models

A Software Advice report estimates that, “by 2020, predictive analytics will disrupt SMB decision-making across all industries and business functions.” Small businesses that have adopted this technology are already seeing the benefits.

For example, predictive analytics helps small manufacturing companies analyze previous maintenance reports to predict future machine failures. And small marketing agencies are able to identify the right influencers for social advocacy using predictive analytics software.

A Gartner report estimates that “by 2020, predictive and prescriptive analytics will attract 40% of enterprises’ new investment in business intelligence and analytics” (content available to Gartner clients). This shows how much big companies will rely on predictive analytics to help them make strategic business decisions.

Keeping this prediction in mind, small business should start identifying business functions that can be improved using predictive analytics. You can start with improving your resource management for successful project management.

Here’s an example of how predictive analytics helped a business achieve effective resource management:

Case StudyPredictive analytics saves employee time; helps understand their workloads

 BEFORE PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS:  Fortive, a technology-solution provider, used to calculate resource allocation using Excel sheets. As a result, project prioritization was based on who wanted to do what, rather than reliable math.

This led to poor project performance, with many projects remaining unfinished and employees being overwhelmed by their heavy workloads.

 AFTER CONVERSATION UI:  Fortive used Prosymmetry’s Tempus Resource solution to automate its resource capacity planning. This led to huge time savings as inputting data, tracking changes, and visualizing resource capacity could be done in a single location.

In addition, the predictive modeling capabilities of the tool allowed Fortive to test out the outcomes of different “what if” scenarios. As a result, project inefficiencies resulting from resource capacity miscalculations were greatly reduced.

Recommended actions:

  • Analyze whether you need specialized resource management tool with predictive resource capacity planning functionality to manage your resources. If you have a small team, then time tracking software may be enough to measure which tasks take how much of an employee’s time.
  • Ask vendors for actual use cases because using predictive analytics for forecasting is still fraught with risks, especially for small businesses that usually don’t have data scientists to double check the predictions. Before purchasing a tool, thoroughly examine your requirements and potential use cases.

Learn more about these new technologies

Regardless of the industry your small business operates within, you should be aware of the impact that new project management technologies and industry trends will have on businesses.

To learn more about project management software trends, read our report on the five biggest project management trends shaping 2018.

And if you’re looking for project management software, compare vendor pricing, screenshots, and reviews of the top free and open source project management tools on our website for free.

In addition, check out these resources that will help you understand the use cases and capabilities of different project management software:


INFORMATION ON GARTNER’S TOP TECHNOLOGY TRENDS FOR SMBS SURVEY

Gartner conducted this survey in April and May 2017 among 699 U.S.-based SMBs, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million. The survey excluded nonprofit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision-makers or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Pritam Tamang

Pritam is a Content Analyst at Capterra and Software Advice. He writes technology research reports centered around small business project management. His areas of interest are SaaS technologies, content marketing and agile/lean thinking.

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