Avoiding the consternation of automation transformation

Technological advancement in the automation landscape makes it more imperative than ever for businesses to leverage these tools to maintain a competitive edge.

Johannesburg, 04 Jul 2024
Dimitri Denissiouk, Managing Director, IBA South Africa.
Dimitri Denissiouk, Managing Director, IBA South Africa.

In the current business landscape, automation is everywhere, as evinced by developments like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA), meaning there's a lot to navigate. Therefore, the principle of automation transformation has become a technological advancement that C-level executives simply can’t afford to ignore.

After all, these technologies aren't just reshaping operational efficiency; they've become a pivotal component of maintaining an organisation’s competitive edge. It's thus a matter of leveraging these digital tools or running the risk of rapidly falling behind industry standards.

The question, asks Dimitri Denissiouk, Managing Director at IBA South Africa, is how can organisations streamline processes, unlock new opportunities and ensure their business remains relevant in the digital accelerating world? Moreover, can this be done without stretching resources thin or hurting the bottom line?

“The key to successful automation transformation is gaining a solid understanding of the options available. For example, large language models (LLMs) excel at customer service. In some studies, GPTs (generative pre-trained transformers) significantly improve customer satisfaction,” he notes.

“As LLMs improve, they enable more sophisticated and natural interaction between users and digital systems. Thus, leveraging LLM-driven chatbots can improve speed and customer response time, while also freeing up human customer service specialists, to address more detailed customer concerns.”

Automation is also dramatically improving business processes in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, he adds. A good example here is how a manufacturer may use its ERP system to automate inventory management and streamline supply chain operations. These strategic steps can help reduce costs and cut down the time between orders and fulfilment, while further improving customer satisfaction and operational agility, when carefully leveraged.

“RPA is also an exciting and innovative technology in the automation landscape. At its best, RPA streamlines complex business processes, reduces human error incidents and frees up employees for strategic, value-added tasks.

“This helps to improve efficiency and productivity, while RPA can also support cost savings and resource allocation. Such tools allow human employees to address strategic tasks that require creativity, emotional intelligence, insight and logic.”

When undertaking an automation transformation journey, it's important to analyse and strategically evaluate your position and the processes most apt for automation. Companies should also remember that there is no need to make sweeping changes all at once, states Denissiouk.

“Businesses could start by considering repetitive tasks like data entry, scheduling, report generation and lengthy general administrative tasks, which don't require much higher-level thought or finesse. These are the ideal functions to automate,” he continues.

“Additionally, when navigating automation transitions, it's crucial to conduct a risk-benefit analysis. Even though automation could simplify some processes, they may have a high associated risk, such as data security. Looking at the complexity and risk can help you prioritise your next moves.”

When resources (human or financial) are limited, it is necessary to decide what to automate first, by assessing risks and leveraging pilot programmes to your advantage. Without planning and the right expertise, an array of pitfalls can undermine the success of automation projects and digital transformation initiatives.

“For one thing, jumping into automation without clear-cut objectives and alignment with business goals can result in misaligned projects and a low return on investment (ROI). For another, automation solutions have to be able to integrate effectively with any existing IT infrastructure you have in place. Proper integration prevents data siloing and operational disruptions,” he adds.

“Remember too that automation can alter and transform your business processes and subsequently impact the way employees work. Recognising the effect of change on staff morale can help prevent employee resistance, poor adoption rates and the underuse of automation tools.”

It's important to consult with experts who can assist your organisation with the best-suited automation technologies, continues Denissiouk. Many small and mid-sized enterprises don't have the in-house staff necessary for implementing complex automation solutions. Therefore, filling the gap with consultants and fractional IT support can help you and your IT team with a successful deployment.

“It’s also vital to understand that automation can induce employee fears of job losses. However, leaders can help mitigate the fear by emphasising automation's key role in business transformation, and by the creation of new and exciting job opportunities for team members.”

He also suggests that retaining and retraining staff has benefits, including cultural continuity, loyalty and a reduction in turnover. Remember, employees have valuable institutional knowledge that can be crucial to the transition process, while combining employee experience and knowledge with new skills makes their jobs even more enjoyable and efficient.

“You should thus adopt continuous learning and professional development to help your team build the skills to match your company’s business operations to new technologies. Doing so will pay off by ensuring your workforce is relevant, competitive and bought into the process.

“Ultimately, automation isn't something to fear, although it is something to approach carefully and strategically. Following this approach can keep your company at the forefront of your industry. It's the future of work and implementing best practices now will be beneficial for years to come,” he concludes.