Don’t bring a hammer to an automation fight


In the very first issue of ERP Today, back in April 2019, I wrote that “AI and automation will be the most transformative technologies that we ever invent”. A little over three years later we are starting to see the realisation of that prediction as point solution RPA matures into enterprise-wide hyperautomation.

The rate of evolution has been stunning: from a misunderstood technology that conjured images of terminator-style robots tapping on a keyboard, to a coherent enterprise imperative in less than five years. Any business that still harbours doubts about the importance of automation is at risk of the same fate as those which failed to respond to the first digital revolution in the late 90s.

Like many emerging technologies, its first incarnation was a pale comparison to the sophisticated and intelligent tools we have today. Small wins are still possible with isolated RPA but the real opportunity lies within an automation platform that seeks out, identifies, tests and executes automations across the enterprise. 

For several years, the phrase ‘digital transformation’ has been incorrectly attributed to virtually all efforts to modernise IT systems. The term is grossly overused and confounded by many who believe moving applications to the cloud or implementing a new CRM constitutes transformation. It doesn’t. That’s just a slightly better way of doing the same thing you have been doing for the last 50 years.

To truly change and extract the maximum value from your IT investments, there must be a fundamental shift in the underlying operating model which is digitally optimised at every level. Modern automation platforms provide this opportunity and they represent the final piece of the jigsaw for any digitally ambitious organisation.

The impact that automation will have in the next five years will be seismic. Whilst the internet and cloud revolutionised shopping, watching a film and calling a taxi, automation will disrupt every conceivable type of business within virtually every vertical. Professional service firms, manufacturers, banks and retailers – the next phase of change brought on by automation will be more radical than anything we have witnessed before and only those that grasp the opportunity now will be here in a decade to tell the story. 

The internet gave birth to companies like Amazon but it hasn’t killed every retailer. Uber was possible because of the cloud but there are still plenty of black cabs in London. Whereas previous disruptive technologies gave rise to a few superpowers in isolated industries, automation will quickly become a prerequisite for any company that simply wants to stay in business. It will be impossible for companies to compete if one adopts automation and the other doesn’t. For that reason, understanding how automation works and starting your automation journey should be the number one priority for every enterprise on the planet.

To put some context around these bold statements, consider a previous revolution in automation from 60 years ago: imagine two volume car manufacturers, one using human panel beaters to build its vehicles and the other using advanced robotics on a modern assembly line. That is the kind of comparison we will see very quickly between contemporary businesses that automate and those that don’t. 

No matter which industry you are in, if you don’t develop an automation strategy you will be the company holding a hammer while your competitors execute an optimised digital experience for employees and customers alike.