Cutting through the automation fear

Why automation is so important to business growth and development, and how companies should approach it.
Peter Clarke
By Peter Clarke, Founder and MD, LanDynamix
Johannesburg, 10 Sept 2020

Automation certainly appears to be the flavour of the year, not the month, with research houses predicting how it will impact businesses globally.

From the business owner’s perspective, there is often a degree of fear in terms of having enough IT know-how to do it right. Then of course, the inevitable worry from a staff perspective is will it translate into job losses? The answer to this last issue is not necessarily – but it may require upskilling or new skills.

Let’s start with the forecasts. Research house Forrester highlights what it calls “the automation paradox”, with predictions that after years of falling, mean-time-to-resolution – which is defined as the time it takes to resolve an IT failure, for example – will increase in 2020.

It attributes this startling fact to companies focusing on automating only the repetitive tasks but leaving the more complex and time-consuming issues for human intervention.

This is an interesting take on this – because I would always advise a strategic approach to automation to be one where the company commences with exactly those repetitive tasks, but it should be understood that they are only the tip of the iceberg.

Forrester estimates that mundane tasks have been automated, with most organisations having automated at least 20% of what the service desk has traditionally done and that some have automated up to 80%, but adds there is still a lot of what could be described as child’s play automation targets in many enterprises, waiting to be automated.

Business owners and operations executives need to understand that with most automation projects there is a relatively small upfront cost to get the ball rolling.

Moreover, the research firm notes the worldwide market for robotic process automation (RPA) services is estimated to reach $7.7 billion next year and grow to $12 billion in 2023. This is said to be propelled by a need to establish governance and operating models around RPA platforms.

The report estimates that the 2020 automation market will see a shift from point solutions to more comprehensive offerings that will address integration challenges and will enable best-in-class features that enterprises require. It goes on to predict that 80% of enterprises will recognise the threat of automation islands and determine that they are no longer sustainable, resulting in the establishment of automation strike teams − a new organisational approach with new roles, skills and jobs, that sits between traditional IT and domain experts.

Let’s just take a moment to get another research guru’s perspective on automation and general technology trends for 2020. Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2020 includes that companies will need to explore hyper-automation – defined as the combination of multiple machine learning, packaged software and automation tools to deliver work.

It is said to refer not only to the breadth of the palette of tools, but also to all the steps of automation itself, which are identified as discover, analyse, design, automate, measure, monitor and reassess.

Gartner goes on to state that understanding the range of automation mechanisms, how they relate to each other and how they can be combined and coordinated is a major focus for hyper-automation. This trend is said to have kicked off with RPA; however, the latter alone is described as not being hyper-automation − which requires a combination of tools to help support replicating pieces of where the human is involved in tasks.

Where to begin?

This is all interesting information from global research houses but I maintain that the approach must be to commence by identifying the dull repetitive tasks that are essential to a business but that consume valuable employee time and morale. These chores are ripe for automation, which can be achieved readily and with significant business benefits in terms of accuracy and heightened business efficiency.

One example of a mind-numbing chore of this nature is the manual transfer of data relating to a client’s consumption of a service to the billing system. Inaccuracies can set in motion a series of costly remediation actions by finance departments and result in reputational damage and of course, are a death knell to staff motivation.

Another example is labour-intensive jobs such as the need for IT departments to deliver software patches to a vast number of machines on a regular basis. Doing so manually devours tracts of time for technical staff − such valuable time could rather be spent doing work that adds greater value to the business. However, automated patch management takes virtually no human time and runs smoothly in the background, with exceptions being flagged for manual intervention.

Business owners and operations executives need to understand that with most automation projects there is a relatively small upfront cost to get the ball rolling. They need to open their minds to the potential of automation and what it actually promises, namely: efficiency gains, intelligent use of staff time and ultimately the growth of their organisations, to name just some of the benefits.

I’ve spoken about low up-front cost and just glanced over the advantages of automating systems and processes within a business but that is not to say there are no challenges to face.

In my next article in this series, I will explain what these hurdles are and how to overcome them.