Smartsheet Engage Conference
Smartsheet announced a series of updates to its automation solutions during its inaugural Engage conference in Bellevue, Wash. PHOTO: Smartsheet

Bellevue, Wash.-based collaboration automation vendor Smartsheet announced major upgrades to its platform at its inaugural Engage customer conference last week.

The upgrades aim to cut down on the manual steps required to accomplish everyday tasks.

Smartsheet Upgrades

Among the new additions are automated approval requests, automated update requests, an in-app notification center and an updated mobile app with better navigation.

Combined, they offer workers an opportunity to streamline work processes without requiring any coding skills.

“These new automation capabilities are significantly more advanced [than previous automation capabilities]. They allow workers to automate parts of their daily workflow to eliminate manual steps and free up time for higher-value work,” Gene Farrell, senior vice president at Smartsheet told CMSWire.

“These can be set up by any end user regardless of their technical ability — no coding or complex formulas required.”

Farrell gave us two use cases for the new features: 

1. Updates

To compile weekly reports, the business user sets up an automatic process to gather information from employees, vendors or customers. The business user receives the information they need each week without having to ask — cutting down on productivity-killing email update threads and in-person meetings. The automated process also triggers notifications when information is missing or new information is required.

2. Approvals

When getting sign-off for a purchase, for example, the business user sets up an automated process that specifies when a request was sent, and the precise date when approval is needed. With automation, approvers get notified automatically via email or push notification, freeing the employee who initiated the request from manually creating requests and sending reminders. All requests and completed approvals can be tracked in a sheet, making it easier to know where each request is in the process and to maintain a record after completion.

Artificial Intelligence, Automation Drive Digital Transformation

Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and freeing workers up for "higher" tasks has become a recurring theme in digital workplace discussions this year.

At the Gartner Digital Workplace Summit in London last week, Gartner VP Matthew W. Cain identified AI as a major driver behind automation, noting very few jobs will remain untouched by AI. What will happen, he argued, is automation of routine work tasks.

By Cain's estimate, at least 30 percent of the majority (60 percent) of worker's activities are already primed for automation. 

Smartsheet's Farrell said the company has been working on this and believes automation will drive digital transformation across many enterprises.

“We believe automation will drive the next wave of transformation in business, removing the barriers currently holding businesses back. Automation is rapidly on the rise in the workplace. Increasingly, businesses and workers are adopting new technologies to transform the way they collaborate and work,” Farrell said.

He also believes automation will have longer term effects on information workers, but it’s important automation capabilities address practical, real-world needs and are available to every worker, regardless of technical abilities.

Automation loses its effectivity if it requires involving IT or a consulting firm every time a process is automated.

An Eye Towards the Automated Future of Work 

In the future, Farrell continued, automation will tackle an increasingly wide array of work-related tasks, some of them quite complex. But the key to success here is doing so in a way that puts the power into every worker's hands.

Many vendors are pushing AI as a core technology in the future, Farrell said. While this kind of future planning is useful for many enterprises at this stage in their digital transformation process, user buy-in to accessible technologies is more important right now, he argued.

“The type of automation businesses need — allowing any employee, regardless of their technical ability, to remove manual steps from the unstructured work they perform every day, doesn’t require complex AI technology that is visible to the end user,” he said.

“Businesses don’t need to hire an army of data scientists to take advantage of our automation capabilities. Our big advance here is to design software that allows any worker to automate their own daily work, without needing help from IT or consultants.”

Smartsheet uses AI extensively to analyze how customers are using Smartsheet services, guide its development of new features and make recommendations to customers and individual users to help them maximize the value of their software.

Smartsheet automatic process approval
Smartsheet automatic process approvalPHOTO: Smartsheet

Enhanced Productivity

By now, enterprises have moved significant portions of their infrastructure to the cloud and are looking for the next big opportunity to reduce cost, improve productivity and increase innovation.

The accepted wisdom goes that many of these gains will come from automation.

The challenge for businesses is achieving these gains without disrupting how their employees work today and gaining widespread adoption in the organization, Farrell said. To ensure Smartsheet adoption, Farrell said, the company has a new of projects underway that will improve its traction in the enterprise.

“The updates and approvals capabilities announced at Engage are only the first in a wave of automation features we’ll roll out in the future. We will tackle high-impact, broadly applicable use cases and leave the 'edge' cases to specialty apps. We’re also working on a number of partnerships that we believe will provide businesses significant opportunities to become even more competitive and innovative,” Farrell said.