The future of automation: a hindrance or an enabler?

Industrial, Robotic

Automation is about efficiency, and efficiency is a priority for businesses and organisations needing to survive in an ever more competitive environment. Automation in the past revolved around updating machinery and equipment and improving processes, while new digital advances have given rise to an intelligent revolution. As a result, industries of all types now have different expectations of automation. Organisations are no longer looking for pocket solutions to address discrete problems but are more interested in end-to-end value and how a change in process has the potential to shape their future business.

The tech revolution we have all lived through over the past few decades is ongoing at speed and offers innovations we could only dream of a few years ago. Artificial intelligence, automation and machine learning promise marked improvements in safety, efficiency and consequently, greater productivity. However, despite these exciting opportunities, many organisations are facing challenges in implementing new technologies and wrestling with decisions about what enhancements would best suit their operations and moreover, what impact this might have on the jobs and livelihoods of their staff. The question they are often asking themselves: is the predicted future of automation a hindrance or an enabler?

However, businesses cannot afford to be left behind and this realisation is illustrated by Gartner’s recent survey which reveals that over 80 percent of organisations consistently self-report increased or continued investment in hyperautomation techniques. It’s clear that businesses are investing heavily in new technology to further automate their operations and cope with 21st century customer demands and expectations.

Most have recognised that the pivot in consumer demand is creating bottlenecks within traditional systems. Customers are increasingly seeking an omni-channel experience, made up of individual touch points, over a variety of channels that seamlessly connect, allowing them to pick up where they left off, often via a different channel on top of that. 

Customers and suppliers expect a response from a business by return, and enhanced automation can provide this capability in an immediate manner. In this way automation can improve and heighten the human experience. That being said, customers themselves have very little interest in the technology that is powering and enabling the improved service. In a highly competitive, often virtual environment, customer choices are made based on response times, efficiency and service. Ultimately, customers want simplicity and ease of use. Automation achieved by embracing new technologies is the key to capturing these customers and maintaining their future loyalty.

Future automation improvements do not pose a threat of technology paralysis, but rather present an exciting opportunity to completely reimagine organisations’ business processes and customers’ experiences. Automation can encompass a whole range of technologies, with the overall ambition being to reduce human intervention and subsequently, human error. 

When deploying effective automation, it’s important to lead with a data-driven approach. Using data-driven mechanisms can enable the mining of existing processes and then use insights gained to improve and decide on the best technology interventions. To ensure changes have the potential to affect all aspects and users of the business, organisations need to look at implementing automation services primarily through three key lenses:

• Customer: Process automation services are built to enable a cohesive, frictionless end-to-end consumer experience with ease. To do this, operating models need to have user experience at the forefront of every process redesigned and automated, staying laser focussed on the business goal.

• Process: Ensuring industry best practices are embedded in the design and automation should be done at the strategic, rather than tactical, level. Organisations must therefore use industry-specific domain experts to get their input. In addition to this, leveraging data-driven process discovery mechanisms like process mining, task mining, communication mining etc, can capture ‘on the ground’ reality at scale.

• Technology: Being able to utilise all types of technologies, platforms and partnerships to automate processes provides the best result and enables organisations to respond to factors including use case type, the existing technology landscape, security aspects, cost of implementation and most importantly, maturity of the organisation to adopt in terms of automation technology as well as processes/ways of working.

The reality is of course that different industries have different requirements and that this, in turn, creates different challenges and the need for different skill sets for each sector. For example, the healthcare industry is heavily regulated and retains a vast amount of confidential information, and this therefore calls for distinct requirements from its automation processes. This contrasts with the manufacturing industry where supply and demand are at the forefront. Therefore, automation requires a tailored approach. 


How to scale automation in the whole organization to ensure business value?

However, there are some challenges which seem universal. One such challenge is the need to deliver new processes at speed and scale. The typical business starts its automation journey at a low level, perhaps involving a pilot scheme or limiting innovations to a specific business unit or discrete process. The question that then follows, once the automation has been judged a success, is how to scale across the whole organisation to ensure business value is delivered by the investment? By this stage, having seen the benefits automation can deliver, the demand for changes to be made rapidly is likely to be considerable. In order to deliver robustly and at speed, vendors need to reconsider their automation models. Vendors need to focus on the following aspects:

• Method: The processes used to identify and qualify use cases. Qualifying the right candidates from a technology point of view

• Machinery: What tools and platforms they currently have

• Talent: Having the right kind of people with the skill sets required to maintain and manage the machinery and processes

• Mindset: Considering the stakeholders and people you are engaging with, is everyone fully on board? 

Finally, it’s important to consider the impact that sustainability initiatives are having on the changing business landscape. No business can ignore the future imperatives arising from climate change. Because of this there has been a fundamental shift in how businesses are looking at automation. No longer is it simply a case of making savings and achieving full-term benefits through efficiencies, it is now a global question of how each business is going to run sustainably. This means businesses are having to rethink their strategies and embed carbon footprint concerns into their design thinking. Automation can help achieve sustainability goals. For example, at Wipro, when analysing supply chain processes, we also consider the overall carbon footprint of the end-to-end value chain.

Automation via new technologies is the future. Specialist advice and input can ensure it is an enabler, streamlining processes and delivering success.  

Omkar Nisal is managing director – UK&I at Wipro Limited