The Future (and Present) of Automation in the Workplace
Steve Noyes, Lead Software Developer
When some people think of automation as it relates to the workplace, they think of large robots occupying the same roles as us. Others picture a computer in the basement of an office building doing the jobs of now obsolete workers. The truth is, automation in the workplace comes in many forms and the one I believe will have the widest impact, at least for the short term, is incremental process automation.
When I refer to automation in this manner, I am referring to the agile way in which organizations can use automation to increase the accuracy and performance of individual processes and workflows. By limiting the scope of what we want the automation to speed up, one can dedicate more time and care for a more tailored solution that will produce greater efficiencies over time than a more general approach. While general approaches are still valuable, the advantages of small-scale automation cannot be understated. In theory, the more individual processes that become automated, the more time and resources a company will have to devote to further automation as well as other projects. As routine and repetitive processes become automated, employees will have more time and energy to be strategic. Small gains for individual processes will snowball into larger gains as different automation projects continue to be rolled out.
PwC released a benchmark last year that states that the financial sector could see gains close to 50% if automation was fully implemented. Most of these gains would be realized in tasks related to the billing, reporting and general accounting that go on behind the scenes at many large financial institutions. This enables those professionals to devote time to bigger breakthroughs and less to mundane tasks – fueling further innovation.
Another sector that is currently benefiting greatly from small scale automation is the IT sector. Now more than ever, companies are spending greater and greater amounts of capital on enterprise software, which in turn increases the amount of support required from IT. In the world of IT, flexibility is the name of the game; you will often need tailored solutions for more complex and specific problems. As you could imagine, smaller-scale automation would help here to break down some of those specific problems while simultaneously leading to efficiencies. These gains in productivity are invaluable in this sector as it helps firms realize massive competitive advantages not only in pricing but in capability as well. It is no surprise that this automation arms race is already gearing up as many of these firms know the stakes as well as the benefits they could realize.
Small-scale automation is a very important niche within the larger automation field, but it is not the only one. A small-scale approach shines brightest when combined with a more general methodology that can better architect a company-wide automation solution while maintaining the flexibility of the smaller, more tailored approach. Only time will tell what specific combinations of solutions will prove most effective. Just because the scope may be small, the possible rewards are anything but.