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For smaller developers with a limited software and IT budget, it is critical to make the most of low-cost, and even free, software solutions to reduce the man-hours devoted to tasks such as data entry and document maintenance. Automating development workflows enables developers to remain lean, increasing team members’ bandwidth to focus on tasks that are less administrative and more aligned with core job responsibilities.
This blog post provides some tips and simple examples of how to streamline workflow. While learning how to utilize these automation tools may seem time consuming at first, the payback is quick, and they will continue to benefit the organization as long as the respective processes are effectively managed.
Tips for Successful Adoption
To start, it’s important to follow a few guidelines to ensure a successful transition to automated workflows:
Tools to Use
There is no shortage of tools to utilize, and the right tools will vary depending on the workflow in question. This post focuses on workflows that have the following elements:
Example 1 – Streamlining an Excel Workbook Used for Land Prospecting
Suppose there is a workbook with the following tabs – Parcels and Targets. The Parcels tab has an extensive list of land parcels that could become candidates for solar development, and the Targets tab has the parcels that have passed all screening criteria. Many teams will have two different roles working in this document: land prospectors, who are responsible for reviewing land via satellite imagery, and land acquisition personnel, who are responsible for landowner outreach.
It can be inefficient to manually transfer over parcels the prospector identifies as suitable. Even if the respective tabs contain the exact same column layouts, manually switching between tabs to transfer data increases the likelihood for error and adds an avoidable amount of time. However, the two tabs will likely have different column layouts, as the information that is critical for prospecting might be less important than the landowner information required for outreach.
An easy solution to this is writing a VBA macro that pulls information from the Parcels tab and transfers it to the Targets tab at the click of a button. By turning column headers into named ranges, both the prospectors and the land acquisition staff can reorganize their respective tabs to their liking without having to rewrite the macro every time a column is moved.
Of course, there are ways this technique can fail. Deleting columns may result in a macro error, and manually entering new parcels into the Targets tab could throw off the automatic indexing from the macro. That is why it is vital to ensure all participants are utilizing the workflow as designed.
Example 2 – Calculating Solar Resource for Hundreds of Locations
Using the Targets tab in the previous example, now you want to calculate the solar resource at a few hundred parcels that have met all screening criteria. The terrain could favor a certain system type (fixed tilt, tracking) over another. Additionally, it may be beneficial to shift the azimuth toward the southwest or southeast.
Calculating the solar resource for hundreds of parcels with four or five different systems can be incredibly time intensive. Fortunately, free online tools such as PVWatts often come with APIs to programmatically run simulations.
In this situation, the easiest thing to do is to put together a table of all necessary system inputs and write a script to iterate through each system for each parcel, with the output going into the Targets tab from the first example.
Embracing the Automation Age
By streamlining the two examples provided in this post, a development team can save countless man-hours by no longer manually completing tasks that can be turned over to software. Although these examples may seem mundane, they can serve as a good starting point. Automation can be an intimidating word to the uninitiated. While it is true that automation is changing the landscape of nearly every industry, we at Distributed Sun have embraced it by streamlining as many workflows as we can, enabling our team to focus on more meaningful tasks and increase our productivity.
- Alex Radcliffe