Empowering the business through automation

Enhance. Empower. Engage. And tick every other enterprise box beginning with an E using automation.
By Tamsin Oxford
Johannesburg, 01 Sept 2022
Rakesh Parbhoo, Westcon-Comstor.
Rakesh Parbhoo, Westcon-Comstor.

People have been worried about technology replacing their roles for a long time. It’s understandable as, after all, history has set a precedent. However, automation, this delectable technical beast that can insert itself into multiple platforms, operations and organisations, is less about replacement and more about enhancement. As PwC’s ‘Future of Automation in Business’ report points out, it’s technology that’s focused on taking away the tedious so people can focus on the interesting and the invaluable.

The same PwC report found that, currently, the industry most focused on automation for growth is healthcare (51%), with consumer markets (49%) and tech, media and telecoms (45%) coming in at second and third place respectively. This is a view shared by McKinsey in its Global Survey, which found the number of companies adopting automation is rising, with 70% piloting automation across business units, an increase of 4% on 2020.

PwC believes that automation gives employees the tools they need to architect their roles and empower them as they grow into their skills and careers. McKinsey adds a caveat – automation can be very successful, but the key to this success lies in a cohesive strategy. This strategy needs to be properly aligned with business expectations and requirements. If automation enables priorities, supports employees and focuses on areas of the business that need streamlining and support, then it can really translate into more innovative processes and operational approaches.

Okay, having read this far, perhaps you’d like the article to tell you how. Well, automation can empower the business across a wide range of operations and can be applied to any process that doesn’t require significant human interaction or brain capacity. It fits neatly into back-office operations, routine customer service, onboarding, admin, data input or extraction, mass emails and scheduling, among many things. It also gives the business the ability to take on more admin or repetitive tasks without the risk of human fatigue while reducing errors and duplication and increasing consistency.

With automation, companies can shift tedium on its axis and reinvigorate how employees engage with the business and how the business engages with its customers.

Then there’s another notch in the automation bow – time to market. Setting the day-to-day admin aside, a skill that automation has clearly demonstrated, there’s also the bonus of automation helping your business gain an edge over the competition. This is achieved by automating multiple stages in the production process to improve speed and cut costs, and, by default, improving customer service and experiences.

The nice modern reality is that humans can’t perform at the speed of automated systems. But, why would they need to? Humans are the key to connections, collaborations and innovations, not admin and data capture. With automation, companies can shift tedium on its axis and reinvigorate how employees engage with the business and how the business engages with its customers.


Finding the best automation fit for your business.

Brainstorm: What are key automationconsiderations every business should look at?

Rakesh Parbhoo, Global CTO and senior VP: MEA, Westcon-Comstor: Do a detailed analysis of processes and engage experts in process-mapping and optimisation. The teams in the business areas doing the involved tasks need to show the steps they perform and be part of the solution. Focus on areas that will have a solid ROI and ensure adoption before trying to automate broadly across the entire company.

Mandla Mbomanbi, CEO, Africonology: There needs to be impact analysis on the effect of automation on other processes and you must identify repetitive processes as they often bore employees. Automating those will enable them to focus on more productive areas of work.

Robin Brink, consultant, Analyze Consulting: Does the business have established, well-documented business processes? Are the processes up to date or do they require some modernisation? Since automation is underpinned by processes, clearly defined processes must be available so that the potential for automation can be determined and suitable processes can be identified.

Jeremy Matthews, CEO and founder of Dax Data: Leaders should concentrate on the value that the solution provides – consistent results with fewer mistakes – resulting in time and resources being saved.

Sylvester Samuel, MD, Cloud, Infrastructure and Security Solutions, Gijima: It’s important for businesses to, firstly, determine the economic value, understand the direct benefit and be able to measure the success of the project. Secondly, it’s important to understand the cost implications from a resource and productivity perspective as well as in terms of investment.

Brainstorm: What challenges can affect automation success and implementation?

Rakesh Parbhoo, Westcon-Comstor: The change management and training aspect of the process being changed. You must ensure the people are engaged and understand what is changing and what they need to do.

Ian Jansen van Rensburg, director, Solutions Engineering, VMware Sub-Saharan Africa: Some of the critical challenges in automating business processes is the difficulty in identifying processes that can be automated, the lack of budget, the complexity of the process to be automated, and the change management process. Unaddressed business process automation challenges may negatively affect the desired outcome if not handled appropriately.

Jeremy Matthews, Dax Data: The chosen solution must be able to manage large volumes of data and maintain effective security and privacy.

Jolene Castelyn, head of Marketing, Ricoh South Africa: It's important to acknowledge that strategic digital transformation doesn’t require that you rip-and-replace your systems. That can be costly and disruptive. Rather, key interventions deliver immediate benefits and returns.

Glenn Noome, director, Smart Integration: If you don’t have the right level of equipment in place before you start, there will be many hidden costs. This also applies to ensuring your users are up to speed too.

Eric Tyree, SVP: AI and Innovation, Blue Prism: The risk of a lot of automation programs is that they get stuck automating one tactical process after another. The automation programs then struggle with scale. Get strategic sponsorship as soon as you can. This will enable the automation program to thrive and deliver huge benefits to the business.

Brainstorm: Can you give us a practical automation example?

Robin Brink, Analyze Consulting: A client was performing HR tasks manually, with paper-based payslips, leave, claims, and employee information change requests. We documented the required processes and implemented a new employee self-service system so they can automate their processes with workflows.

Jolene Castelyn, Ricoh South Africa: We helped easyJet, a European low-cost airline that operates in 35 countries, at 154 airports, and flies 981 routes. Its employees wanted to collaborate more effectively as more of them returned to the office post-lockdown. We helped them create a structured platform for desk booking.

Johan Scheepers, senior manager: Solution Architects, Sub-Saharan Africa at Red Hat: Microsoft is a massive user of Ansible, and one of the key reasons the company uses it is because it’s trying to simplify processes and experiences across all their infrastructure teams. With nearly 150 000 employees worldwide, Microsoft needed to change how it manages and deploys its global network by not only modernising its platforms, but also its skill sets. Microsoft adopted Ansible to create a centralised and technology-agnostic network automation environment that would allow their DevOps teams to focus on sharing knowledge.

Predicting the automation future

What the analysts think.

What lies ahead for automation in 2023? Will it suddenly transform the business, or will it fade into the background? These are the questions that Forrester’s VP and principal analyst Craig le Clair set out to answer.

An internationally recognised automation expert, Le Clair believes that one of the key automation trends for the enterprise in 2023 will be automation platforms consolidating to build more complete applications. “They combine intelligent automation, data-first tools like Integration Platform-as-a-Service and IoT, and infrastructure automation, like AI-ops, into what Forrester calls the Automation Fabric,” he explains.

This fabric is defined as an approach for ‘whole of business automation’ that integrates multiple adjacent and complementary automation applications, technologies, process architectures, organisational behaviours and partners to balance the goals of human-centred automation.

It's important to acknowledge that strategic digital transformation doesn’t require that you rip-and-replace your systems.

Jolene Castelyn, Ricoh South Africa

Another trend is the evolution of the hybrid workforce and no, this is not the one that can work from anywhere; this is the hybrid workforce that combines intelligent agents and digital workers with automation solutions that can make decisions and support employees in their daily roles.

“Software that can make decisions or perform a service based on its environment, user input and experiences will be packaged and deliver value,” says Le Clair.

The third trend, one that will likely give the enterprise some much-needed relief, is the evolution of automation centres of excellence that step up to solve AI governance and deployment issues and that will see CIOs increasingly take on more direct responsibility for automation initiatives. The reason why these trends in automation are becoming so prevalent is largely thanks to the pandemic. According to Le Claire, the focus of intelligent automation and hyper-automation was tactical during the pandemic, but now this is changing.

“The attitude for automation has become more transformational,” he says.

This view aligns with how rapidly the world is changing and the multiple factors impacting on enterprise stability and growth. The current market is still defined by uncertainty and complexity with the pandemic ongoing, the Ukraine-Russia conflict sending a ripple effect across the world, and economic turbulence. Companies want solutions and services that will allow them to build stable foundations capable of adapting with agility, and supporting their employees as they navigate work in this challenging world. Interestingly, Forrester has also found that while the pandemic saw many companies turn to automation to optimise systems in complex times, there has been the positive upside of sustainability as automation supports work-from-home initiatives, reduced commute times, less reliance on paper, and the measurably reduced CO.

On the subject of innovation and predictions for automation in 2023, Le Clair says: “We will see innovation in physical automation triggered by the worldwide shortage of service workers. Robots for security, food preparation, autonomous delivery and warehouse operations will accelerate. These will need integration with the cognitive or intelligent automation, which is one of the Automation Fabric initiatives.”