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Automation: What businesses need to know

When businesses think of automation, they probably conjure up images of simplicity, efficiency, lower costs and increased productivity. Of course, this is something of an oversimplification and there are certainly challenges to adopting workplace automation. However, it is not hard to see why more and more industries are automating their business processes. Whether it’s via robots or software, automation can eliminate the repetitive, manual tasks that, while essential, are a huge drain on employee time. Automation lets members of staff direct their energies into more productive areas, such as coming up with innovative new ideas. Before embracing automation, however, organisations must evaluate what they are looking to achieve and how they can automate tasks without causing disruption to their other business practices.

Automating the right areas

There are areas of your business that will benefit from automation and there are those that definitely will not. It is up to each organisation to carefully assess which tasks can be completed without human involvement. However, here are some common business practices that are already embracing automation.

  • DevOps – One of the key strands of the DevOps movement is the automation of application deployment. By streamlining your development process, introducing feedback loops and encouraging collaboration between operations and development teams, businesses can create a faster and more agile software development lifecycle. In the modern business world, applications are constantly being deployed and updated – it is no longer acceptable to make customers wait weeks and months for the tools they need. Automation can help businesses iterate their software constantly, ensuring they stay ahead of their competitors.
  • Security – A fast response is vital in the event of a data breach or any other security incident, which is why more and more companies are incorporating automation into their incident response strategies. Automation can be used to instantly collect and compile data from previous incidents, recognise familiar threats and quarantine infected areas. Human involvement is still critical to a security response, but automation can help speed up the process.
  • Manufacturing – Traditional industries such as a manufacturing have had to embrace automation to stay competitive. By using robots on the factory floor, businesses have been able to cut costs, reduce waste and improve product quality. Automation has also removed humans from potentially dangerous tasks.
  • Database management – One of the most tedious office tasks is entering information into a database. However, there are now tools available that can collect and aggregate data from multiple sources and format it exactly to suit your business needs. This also reduces the likelihood of errors, which can prove disruptive and difficult to correct.

Challenges and how to overcome them

There has been plenty of scaremongering around workplace automation, particularly regarding technology replacing human workers. While it will surely lead to the destruction of some traditional job roles, it is important to remember that it will also create others. According to a study of UK Census data carried out last year, technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed. However, there are still challenges that businesses must overcome before embracing automation. Chief among them is being able to view automation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Although automation may lead to job cuts, there are good and bad ways for businesses to manage this unfortunate impact. According to the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), 43 per cent of businesses expect automation to lead to job losses, with certain members of staff no longer required. The organisations that deal best with this challenge are those that value their members of staff and realise that their worth may extend beyond their current position. Many businesses use automation as the impetus to redeploy talented members of staff rather than letting them go. In many cases, employees can assume higher-value positions, but some additional training may be required. To avoid the reputational damage that can accompany job cuts, businesses should be upfront about their automation plans and any possible redundancies. They should also invest in their remaining workforce, ensuring that they have the skills needed to manage and maintain the new automation tools. Just because a business process is automated, doesn’t mean it requires no human input.

Another automation challenge is integration. Getting automation tools to work with your existing software, particularly those that still need to be managed manually can be difficult. One way of mitigating this disruption is to start small and take your time. Automating smaller projects first enables organisations to identify any integration issues without causing widespread disruption to your operations. Similarly, never automate any aspect of your business without carrying out due diligence. First, you must evaluate whether a particular business process benefits from human involvement. If not, then each individual task within that process must be analysed in detail to understand the challenges and advantages of automation.

Not a quick fix

Businesses looking to adopt automation must realise that it is far from a one-size-fits-all solution. There are areas of your businesses that can become more efficient and productive by being automated, but even these are likely to require some human involvement. What’s more, there are likely to be some companies or teams that are completely unsuited to automation. Tasks that rely on relationship building, for example, cannot easily be undertaken by a piece of software. Furthermore, organisations shouldn’t view automation as a quick and easy way of reducing their staff overheads. To carry out an automation project correctly requires time and investment in both software and people. It is not a quick fix. However, the businesses that succeed in automating the most time-consuming and repetitive tasks will reinvigorate their workplace by giving their employees the ability to work faster, more efficiently and more intelligently than previously possible.

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