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September 24, 2018

Automation: Friend, not Foe

"There is no debate, automation is here to stay.  And to believe otherwise is akin to farmers in the nineteenth century refusing to accept the mechanisation of agriculture"

By CBR Staff Writer

Unless you are a direct descendent of a certain Ned Ludd, chances are you subscribe to the belief that an increasing number of day-to-day functions (both commercial and social) will be automated by software code, or by robotic hardware.  Indeed, even Ned himself would find it hard to argue with the sheer weight of evidence in favour of this trend only accelerating.  But here’s the rub: while plenty of people in enterprises agree that automation is helping organizations to achieve greater efficiency than possible with strictly human efforts, when it comes to answering the question “and what are you doing about it in your business?”, well, at that point, uncertainty starts to kick in.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Massive Commercial Opportunity

In truth, we’re on the cusp of what many have started to call the Fourth Industrial Revolution where automation starts to alter the very nature of work and yet I believe that the massive commercial opportunity that it affords is still to be fully grasped by enterprises.  Amazon, the trailblazer of retail efficiency, recently announced that in addition to using automation in the form of robots to move merchandise around its warehouses, it is also turning to the superior accuracy of its algorithms, refined through years of monitoring customer behaviour, to predict what shoppers want and how much to charge for it.

And once the Seattle retail behemoth is on the automation trail to competitive advantage, others had better start plotting their path to keep up.  It is time to embrace reality: there is no debate, automation is here to stay.  And to believe otherwise is akin to farmers in the nineteenth century refusing to accept the mechanisation of agriculture.  Or, in more recent history, we could draw from the learnings of companies which have hit the news for all the wrong reasons: resolutely sticking to their traditional model, turning a blind eye to the innovation happening around them and then paying the ultimate price.

The penetration of automation in all its forms inevitably brings us to an identifiable point of failure for every industry on the planet. The retail firm that fails to automate customer records, at the software level, will ultimately fail. The same retail firm that fails to automate its product labelling system, at the robotic hardware level, will also ultimately fail. But retail is not special. Automation impacts every industry vertical.

See also: Robotic Process Automation and The Future of Work

Does it also impact employment?  Not necessarily.  Amazon, for example, claims it is creating jobs, as well as adding automation, across the company to better serve customers.  And here’s the point: automation does not seek to replace humans in the workplace, but change the type of work they are able to concentrate upon.  Where repeatable work tasks are associated with excessive time consumption and therefore inefficiency, these tasks become perfect candidates for automation. Indeed, a recent Willis Towers Watson survey, conducted in India, which aimed to find out how employers are managing emerging work options discovered that 60% of employers believe that the use of automation would result in augmented human capability and creation of new work rather than evolution from pure labour substitution.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

VW’s heavily automated plant in Wolfsburg, Germany

From the invention of the printing press in 1440 to driverless cars today, history has shown us that, yes, machines impact the type of work humans do, but this doesn’t mean there will be any less work overall for humans.  New jobs will be developed to support automation and the opportunities it brings.

If you’re therefore wavering about how, and why, to address the automation revolution, here are three compelling reasons why it is time to take the plunge:

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1: Become an Agile Business

Iterate fast and deliver faster.  By automating repeatable patterns within the organisation, the time to value of a particular project is reduced, while the accuracy of the outcome is significantly increased. Such increased accuracy enables a business to become more agile – and therefore competitive – as a greater level of consistency across resources and projects can be achieved, as well as easing ongoing maintenance and onboarding of resources.  Finally, frequent changes to business needs can be more easily incorporated within a viable timeframe.

2: Squeeze More Out of What you Already Have

By automating repetitive tasks, developers can spend more time focusing on the design business value and generally remaining more engaged by working on items of strategic value.  Indeed, by automating certain tasks, developers can boost productivity five fold and deliver significantly greater value back to the business.

3: Enhance Your Ability to Collaborate Around Value Rather than Process

Compressed time by automation allows business & IT to collaborate more effectively, as time between design and “seeing” the data is significantly reduced.  Business users feel comfortable that they don’t need to know all details before engaging in a project;  They can start with what they know and evolve as they work through the data with developers.

Make no mistake about it, the automation revolution is here to stay.  The choice is therefore to either embrace it, and then reap the benefits that it will undoubtedly bring, or to continue to prevaricate, and in the process, see any competitive edge that you may currently hold, slip away.




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