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How And When To Automate File Transfers: Best Practices

Automate your file transfer workflows to deliver files faster, with more reliability. Improve your workflows and orchestrate transfers across silos. Learn more.

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Automate your file transfer workflows to reduce delays and improve reliability, while saving your team time.

File transfers are common and often critical to business operations. At least, it’d take business a lot longer to get anything done if inventory orders went through the mail. Fortunately, instead of waiting for mail carriers we can send important documents to business partners at the speed of light – almost.

Besides the limits of physics, there are a few things slowing our file transfers down:

  • Manual handoffs
  • Manual maintenance
  • Network latency
  • Packet loss

We’ll take a look at how automation can drastically reduce at least those first two hurdles.

When To Automate File Transfer Workflows

As with any automation project, the first step is considering what to automate. The best way to do this is by listing your manual, day-to-day tasks and then ordering that list by how much time each week is spent on each task. Then approximate how long each task will take to automate.

The goal of this exercise is to determine if and when you have sufficient reason to automate existing file transfer workflows. You want to automate when existing manual tasks are taking too much of your time.

But this doesn’t mean you should wait for manual tasks to take up X amount of your time. Having the right tools can make it fairly easy to automate rules-based file transfer workflows, so that new tasks and workflows can be automated as you’re onboarding a new trading partner, or as you’re initiating a new business process. We’ll cover that more below.

Automating a workflow as you create the workflow reduces technical debt that you’ll otherwise have to deal with later down the road.

The more you’re able to reduce manual touchpoints, the more scalable and flexible your file transfer environment will become. Many organizations are seeing an increase in the need for file transfers as more processes become digitized, especially in regards to remote work file sharing. 

Automating new and existing workflows will make it easier to meet business needs by reducing the manual tasks needed to manage an expanding file transfer environment, while at the same time reducing delays from manual handoffs and human error.

How To Automate Your File Transfers

Traditionally, IT teams have relied on custom scripting and command lines to schedule or automate tasks for FTP servers. Writing scripts offers lots of flexibility so long as you have the time. But as file transfer environments grow, relying on PowerShell becomes a hassle. Trading partners rely on different EDI tools, your own organization is relying on a variety of platforms, and writing scripts for each new change isn’t enough to keep pace with business.

The alternative then is to use automation software. Some SFTP vendors offer scheduling and automation, while native job schedulers (Windows Task Scheduler, Cron) usually include some basic file movements and transfer functionality. Most managed file transfer solutions do as well, albeit with more features and capabilities, enabling you to automate a wider range of tasks and to string those tasks into longer-running processes.

Automated file transfer tools are almost always programmatic, using building blocks to abstract away the underlying code. This makes it easier for users to assemble workflows that can trigger file uploads, notify users, update file names and much more.

There are typically two ways to set up your automation: you can schedule tasks or implement event triggers. For example, if you have invoices to send at the close of each business day, it might make sense to schedule a transfer to move files from a specified directory and sends them to the corresponding trading partner(s).

Generally speaking, if a transfer or task is repeated at routine intervals (every hour, twice a day, every day or every week), it probably makes sense to schedule that transfer to run on its own.

In other cases, automatic file transfers might be more sporadic, for example, receiving patient information. In order to cut down on the time it takes for an insurance company to process a patient’s claim, it probably makes sense to set up event triggers so that, as soon as a patient’s file is added to a directory, it is encrypted and sent along its way to insurance.

Orchestrating Your File Transfer Automation

Managed file transfer software, custom scripts and SFTP servers. Each allows you a certain degree of control and flexibility when automating your transfers. One of the drawbacks of these tools is that many cannot readily integrate with other applications or systems, or only handle limited file transfer protocols. This makes it more difficult to manage high-volume transfers across platforms.

Some MFT vendors offer platform-independent solutions that can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud, with REST API adapters that can quickly integrate virtually any application (SaaS). This enables users to stay ahead of business requirements, but more importantly it helps IT teams to break down silos — instead of different departments or office locations using separate file transfer software, a single MFT tool can be used to automate file transfers regardless of the operating systems being used.Still some other vendors are taking this a step further. Workload automation and enterprise job schedulers have long supported file transfers. Today, vendors are bringing these tools together to offer bi-directional integrations that make it easy to orchestrate secure file transfers with all your IT and business processes.


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Brian is a staff writer for the IT Automation Without Boundaries blog, where he covers IT news, events, and thought leadership. He has written for several publications around the New York City-metro area, both in print and online, and received his B.A. in journalism from Rowan University. When he’s not writing about IT orchestration and modernization, he’s nose-deep in a good book or building Lego spaceships with his kids.

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