Three things impacting automation

The world around us is digitally transforming and nobody can afford to get left behind.

Johannesburg, 23 Mar 2018
Read time 5min 20sec
Leon Swarts, MD, TauLite.
Leon Swarts, MD, TauLite.

It's the fourth industrial revolution. Robots are learning to perform surgery. Cars are driving themselves. Machines are talking to people and nobody really knows what the future holds as the machines are partly in control of their own destiny owing to the creation of artificial intelligence.

Ubiquitous digital transformation

Consider the digital empowerment of people and businesses. The world around us is changing almost on a daily basis. Digital transformation is unavoidable. It's literally transforming the way we live, work and play. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are impacting on almost everything we do, even if we aren't always aware of it. Remember searching for a new car last week? Now every time you log onto Facebook, Twitter or Gmail you're seeing adverts for cars? That's artificial intelligence at work.

However, as much as these technological innovations bring advancements, they also pose challenges. Take accountability for example. If a robot surgeon makes a mistake, is it the fault of the person who built the robot? Or the hospital? You can't hold a machine accountable.

And then there's the networks, IT infrastructure and connectivity that have to be sufficiently advanced to support digital transformation - these need to evolve at an equally fast pace in order to enable it. Not all regions have access to the latest and fastest infrastructure, but that doesn't necessarily mean they can't be digitally transformed, says Leon Swarts, MD of TauLite. "Around the world, digital transformation is creating a digital society of customers, employees and other stakeholders that are tied together and digitally empowered through technology."

Rapid technology advancements

Swarts says: "Everyone is predicting that the fourth industrial revolution will really gain momentum by 2020. But nobody can forecast what'll happen beyond that because the pace of technological advancement is accelerating so quickly. If you consider the amount of technological innovations that the world has seen since 1994; it took 22 years for us to get the mobile phone, the Internet and the drastically altered world that we currently inhabit. The same amount of change is expected to happen between now and 2020. That's 22 years' of development taking place within the space of three years. That's scary fast advancement."

Swarts refers to Moore's law, which says that the number of components in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. What this means for the consumer is that devices are becoming smaller, have more features, yet are costing less. He says: "If the same rate of change were to hold true for transport in the same way it applies to ICT, we would have been able to travel to the moon and back on a litre of petrol. The processing power that we can implement currently can be compared to the intelligence of a spider. If you consider the speed at which it has to think in order to hunt prey or spin an intricate web, that's pretty complex, and artificial intelligence is already there."

Businesses have been focusing on automation for a while. The concept of working smarter is a no-brainer and non-negotiable in today's pressured economy. If there's manual work within your organisation that can be automated, it should be, freeing up human resources for more skilled tasks. There's no longer time to let people do mundane, repeatable tasks, and businesses that don't adopt some degree of automation are going to be left behind, according to Swarts.

The Africa opportunity

He sees massive opportunity in Africa for digitalisation and goes so far as to say that Africa is leapfrogging the rest of the world when it comes to technology. "By the time mobile technology reached South Africa, we'd skipped the early teething stages that Europe and the US endured and went straight to technology that worked. When you consider the rate at which mobile coverage and cellphone adoption have grown in Africa over the past 20 years, it becomes clear that the continent is more than ready to transform digitally through automation."

One of the key elements of digital transformation and automation in Africa is integration. Swarts explains: "In order to automate systems and processes, businesses need to integrate and co-ordinate across different tools, technologies, suppliers, customers, employees and even companies, it can't be done in silos. Collaboration is key to successful automation."

To illustrate the capabilities of such an implementation, Swarts cites the example of automating access to a telecommunications site that is routinely visited by various maintenance personnel. "When engineers or maintenance personnel request access to the site, a messaging application and process are used to automate and approve their access. Should an intrusion alarm be detected, an intelligent decision can then be made as to whether this is an authorised or unauthorised access, and the appropriate action can be taken. By automating such mundane and routine tasks as access to a site for maintenance purposes, security staff are freed to do other tasks."

Having an automated visitor log also makes it easier to track who accessed the site for maintenance or in the event of a crime being committed. Swarts explains: "There are three elements to this type of automation: IOT sensors, an alarm collection platform and a service management solution.

"When integrated with geo-mapping, you can get a single geographical view of multiple events and sites. This integrated with a messaging application and process means the customer always knows who is on their site at any given time - and can draw historical logs if they need to. All of these disparate elements have to work together in order to be successful, and in so doing, they bring together the business, the security company, the maintenance personnel and possibly other relevant stakeholders along the way."