Planning for ultimate automation success

Automation is set to drive most businesses all over the world in the coming years, so it’s now time to work through the challenges this move will pose to your company.
Peter Clarke
By Peter Clarke, Founder and MD, LanDynamix
Johannesburg, 17 Sept 2020

While automation offers significant benefits, companies will also encounter challenges that need to be worked through. But before you stress about the challenges, understand what the research houses are predicting about automation trends through to 2024.

Each year, Gartner releases a series of predictions to guide business and IT leaders through the next year. The following includes some of these insightful predictions specifically for automation:

  • By 2021, over 75% of midsize and large organisations will have adopted a multicloud and/or hybrid IT strategy.
  • By 2022, public cloud services will be essential for 90% of business innovation.
  • By 2022, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data centre, or cloud − up from less than 10% in 2019.
  • By 2023, 75% of all databases will be on a cloud platform, reducing the DBMS vendor landscape and increasing complexity for data governance and integration.
  • By 2023, there will be a 30% increase in the use of robotic process automation for front-office functions (sales and customer experience).
  • Through 2023, computational resources used in artificial intelligence (AI) will increase five times from 2018, making AI the top category of workloads driving infrastructure decisions.
  • By 2023, at least 35% of midsize to large enterprises will leverage a hybrid cloud-to-edge computing deployment model for at least one Internet of things (IOT) project.
  • By 2024, at least 50% of enterprise applications in production will be IOT-enabled.
  • By 2024, 75% of large enterprises will be using at least four low-code development tools for both IT application development and citizen development initiatives.

One can take the foregoing and summarise it by saying that automation is set to drive most businesses all over the world in the coming short number of years. The ones not deploying it will quite possibly not be in business by 2024, having been overtaken by more innovative competitors.

A crucial and ongoing part of any automation project is meticulous documentation so there are no surprises when projects take place later.

While there are no caveats, 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.

One such hurdle is that automation often requires finding a way to link two disparate apps, often by leveraging an existing application programming interface or creating a new one. One example would be linking payroll, timesheet and sales apps to enable the automation of overtime or commission payments.

Similarly, automation can be used successfully to ensure time-consuming maintenance tasks, such as cleaning up storage, can be undertaken regularly rather than ignored – the latter is more usual. The upfront cost must be justified; for example, by calculating the reduction in support calls or reduced staffing needs.

Automation and COVID-19

There are common challenges and some that arise due to extraordinary circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to the work from home model. notes that digital transformation itself was disrupted by the pandemic. It goes on to state that executives weren’t prepared for an overnight shift to 100% digital operations for an extended period.

My response to that is, of course, they weren’t − who was? Remote work, e-commerce, security, supply chain, and business processes and software across the enterprise were each uniquely exposed to crushing demands, bottlenecks and points of failure. The report confirms that business continuity and stabilisation was suddenly everyone’s priority.

What is overwhelmingly and unexpectedly clear is that COVID-19 pushed legacy processes and BPOs well beyond peak capacity as they were exposed for their inefficiencies and reliance on manual processing. The pandemic made executives rethink digital transformation and the role advanced technologies could play in the future of business.

I can provide an example from personal experience at LanDynamix, as when SA went into lockdown, we received a flood of client requests to load MS Teams onto their employees’ devices. In the IT space, scripting engines can be used to provide a way of quickly automating repetitive but essential tasks. We were able to meet this sudden surge in demand due to a scripting engine we had invested in that provided ready-made templates that were quick to customise.

Lack of records relating to any development or scripting that is performed as part of the automation process can become a serious issue going into the future where there has been reliance on the knowledge of key individuals.

This is a mistake – a crucial and ongoing part of any automation project is meticulous documentation so there are no surprises when projects take place later. One of the problems of the big Y2K hype was the fact that customisations made to systems were not documented and systems had to be audited at great cost to identify vulnerabilities.

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.

Many employees instinctively do not want to be taken out of their comfort zones and will actively resist. Under these circumstances I advise searching for business problems that automation would solve and boost morale by addressing a common staff grumble which is: “There aren’t enough hours in the day.”

In my final article in this series of three, I will provide tips for a successful automation programme.