Automation caveats and how benefits far outweigh them

Implementing automation can help companies streamline processes, reduce costs, improve accuracy and increase productivity.
Ethan Searle
By Ethan Searle, Business development director, LanDynamix.
Johannesburg, 29 Jun 2023

Caveat is the wrong word, as strictly speaking there are none, but there are challenges. One of the key principles to bear in mind is that each challenge must be considered in the context of the business benefit it is blocking. 

This is the best approach to take because it opens the door to devising and implementing the actions necessary to overcome barriers.

Automation has become an essential tool for businesses looking to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability. However, despite its benefits, there are several challenges associated with automation that must be addressed. These challenges can hinder the implementation and success of automation initiatives if not dealt with effectively.

One of the most daunting hurdles for many companies is the upfront cost of automation. Such initiatives often require an initial investment that may not be immediately justified. For example, automating time-consuming maintenance tasks, such as storage clean-up, can be costly at the outset. However, the benefits of automation usually outweigh the costs in the long run.

In this case, regular maintenance can prevent data loss, reduce the risk of system crashes and improve overall system performance. The reduction in support calls or staffing needs can also help justify the upfront cost of automation.

One of the most daunting hurdles for many companies is the upfront cost of automation.

Another problem is the need to link disparate apps. Automation often requires connecting two or more applications that may not have been designed to work together. This can be a significant challenge, but it can be overcome by leveraging existing APIs or creating new ones.

For instance, linking payroll, timesheet and sales apps can enable the automation of overtime or commission payments. Such an approach can eliminate manual data entry, reduce errors and improve the accuracy of payments.

But sometimes it is just not meant to be automated. Some applications are simply not amenable to being automated easily, or at all. In such cases, the business must decide whether it is prepared to incur the necessary expense and disruption of implementing an alternative application that can be automated.

When deciding whether to automate a business process or not, it is essential to consider the unique needs and goals of the company.

Automation is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and each application must be evaluated based on its ability to support or cater for the company's individual processes, the complexity of implementation, the potential for error and the possible cost savings.

In some cases, it may be more cost-effective to keep it manual, especially if the application does not contribute significantly to the bottom line.

A company should never adjust processes into predefined limitations within a certain application, as it will erode competitive advantage and it may end up looking just like its competitor that uses the same application.

The human factor

Automation can be a controversial subject in countries like South Africa, where there is high unemployment and a large, unskilled workforce − these circumstances make carefully calibrated automation strategies crucial.

Many employees instinctively do not want to be taken out of their comfort zones and will actively resist. The best way to approach this is by searching for business problems that automation can solve and boost morale by addressing a common staff grumble, which is: “There aren't enough hours in the day.”

It's important to encourage automation project delivery teams to ensure they demonstrate automation benefits to staff, including up-skilling users. They need to show how business owners will have more time to focus on improving operations and refining strategy, while employees will be liberated from mind-numbing jobs and given the scope to take on more valuable work, enhance skills and generally be more motivated.

An attitude of continuous improvement must be cultivated. Moreover, it needs to be understood that freeing up staff time is not another term for cutting head count. It needs to be made clear that the idea is to provide greater opportunity for existing staff to take on more demanding/interesting work, gain skills and better their long-term career prospects.

When implementing automation, it is also crucial to provide staff with training that goes beyond just learning how to use the application. It is essential to ensure employees understand the principles behind automation and the benefits it can bring.

While there may be upfront costs associated with both the application and training, these expenses will decrease over time.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of automation far outweigh any negatives. Simply put, automation can help companies to streamline processes, reduce costs, improve accuracy and increase productivity.

Furthermore, increased efficiency can lead to cost savings that will more than offset the upfront costs associated with implementing automation and training staff.

The key is to consider each challenge in the context of the business benefit it is blocking. By doing so, businesses can devise and implement the necessary actions to overcome barriers and ensure the success of their automation initiatives.

In conclusion, it's all about how you go about it. The growing commercial viability of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence highlights the significant role that automation will play in enhancing business operations and optimising the use of valuable human resources.

However, implementing automation should be a phased process that includes a comprehensive upskilling programme for as many employees as possible.

When viewed as part of a strategy to improve efficiencies and enable employees to realise their full potential, the benefits of automation are substantial, involve a cycle of continuous improvement and an engaged workforce. But the key to successful automation is in the approach taken by businesses.

By embracing automation in a phased and strategic manner, businesses can enjoy these positive outcomes that ultimately lead to a win-win situation for both the company and its employees.