Automation is a fancy new buzzword that seems to be everywhere, but in fact, the technology that powers automated processes has been around for decades. However, the ability to automate complex tasks through machine learning reflects both how far automated technology has come and how quickly it has advanced in recent years.
Automating processes and manual tasks are increasingly commonplace and span from the sleek sophistication of self-driving cars to the mundane assembly line robots that drive factory automation. While you may not realize it, automation has seeped into every corner of your daily life. Whether it’s the chatbots that pop up on websites or the Roomba that patrols your floors, automation has taken up permanent residence in our personal and professional lives.
Today’s automated technology can trace its roots back nearly 50 years ago to when IBM introduced the OS/360, transforming the landscape of business automation with batch processing. As technology advances and computers grow more capable, businesses in every industry are leveraging automation to streamline tasks, increase efficiency, and minimize costs.
Automation still has a vast amount of untapped potential, especially for smaller businesses or industries who rely on manual labor. For these enterprises, automated technology holds the key to transforming processes and staying competitive in a quickly changing marketplace.
What is Automation?
Automation is any electronic or manual workflow, series of tasks, or process that can operate independently without human oversight. The term automated technology applies to both single tasks and the algorithms that handle more complicated processes. You’ll find this kind of technology at work in a variety of industries, including the following.
- Customer service
- IT support
- HR & Recruiting
- Manufacturing (Product, Automotive, etc.)
- Banking & Finance
- Shipping & Transportation
- Healthcare & Medical Services
- Agriculture and Food Production
- Law Enforcement & Government
These industries are by no means the end of the road for automation’s capabilities. As machine learning and artificial intelligence advance, technology will become the backbone of every industry and the primary driver of innovation in a thriving economy.
What is Robotics Process Automation?
You’ll often hear the term robotics process automation (RPA) thrown around when discussing automation in the business world. It refers to applying technology to automate business processes, and it’s not exclusively the robots you might imagine working tirelessly on an assembly line. RPA can also be behind the software sending out responses to customer service complaints or the algorithms making customer recommendations.
Some smaller companies have avoided robotics process automation, mistakenly believing the technology to be out of their reach in terms of cost and the expertise implementing these solutions requires. Ryan Park, Vice President of SPI Automation, Inc, explains how they’ve leveraged automated technology to transform productivity for their customers.
“A customer recently asked us to help in writing messages on ice cream cakes. Their current process involved 40 individuals decorating cakes as they were presented to them on an assembly line. This was an extremely labor-intensive function that resulted in a high incidence of repetitive motion injuries. Working with the customer and experts in the field, we were able to automate using a robotic system that decorated and wrote a high-quality script on cakes at a rate of 40 per minute. This allowed our customer to increase output, decrease injuries, and deploy the existing labor force throughout his facility.”
Learn more about robotics process automation:
When Process Automation Makes Sense
Not every process or task involving manual labor makes sense to automate. Even if a robot could manage the work, there are a couple of considerations that might make your process a poor candidate for automation. For instance, any workflow with a changing framework and input can be tricky to automate since it would require frequent reprogramming.
To decide whether automation is the right solution for your business processes, ask yourself the following questions.
- Is it a repetitive task performed daily?
- Is it a process that becomes a bottleneck or holds up other parts of your workflow?
- Has it stayed the same for some time and undergoes minimal change?
- Is it a process you can easily define and outline steps to completion?
If you can answer yes to the above considerations, the task or process may be a good candidate for automated technology. Keep in mind however that if it’s a task that is critical to the success of your business, you may want to leverage automation to streamline the manual labor so you can devote your human resources to quality control and design.
Benefits of Industrial, Factory, and Manufacturing Automation
Automated technology can be a powerful tool that enables businesses to stay competitive. While not all jobs are good candidates for business automation, a study by McKinsey Institute indicates that in about 60% of occupations, 30% of the work could be automated.
The relentless and highly competitive pace of the global economy means staying successful in the long term relies on the lean production and efficient operations that automation can achieve. Companies who invest in automated technology now will be in a better position to take advantage of opportunities in the future. Here are a few other benefits to automating business processes, no matter the industry.
Any automated tasks that don’t present gains in efficiency aren’t earning their keep. However, managers often underestimate the time employees invest in mundane, manual work that isn’t a good use of human resources. Automation enables you to employ people productively elsewhere on the challenging tasks the provide higher value and reward for both employees and employers.
Improve customer service
Automation is online even when you aren’t and can provide a more reliable, consistent quality of interactions. After all, automation software doesn’t forget to call you back or get distracted and skip a step in a critical task. By automating processes that require both technical skills and customer service, your business can partner more effectively with operators and give them the bandwidth to address higher-level concerns.
The cost of daily operations can be a significant chunk of your budget. Some businesses report it’s as much as 70% of their overhead. Reliable automation technology can not only improve your bottom line by reducing labor costs, but also by providing better overall performance, service, and quality.
Encourage better working environment
While there has been some panic about automation eliminating jobs, the reality has been quite different. Like machine learning and artificial intelligence, business automation works alongside instead of disrupting our daily lives. Automation technology makes work more efficient, so the most valuable resources (the human ones) can focus on innovation, design, and the work that matters for the future of the industry.
Obstacles in Automating Processes
Automating processes can reduce friction in many ways, but there are certainly some obstacles to getting there. Implementing the technology necessary to automate processes requires some investment up front that you’ll need to consider.
- Expertise and resources
- Technical capabilities
- Organizational concerns
There may also be some anxiety about how automation reflects company values, like prioritizing your greatest asset—people. It should be stressed that robotics process automation enhances efficiency but isn’t intended to replace the value humans bring to your business and industry. As Jim Wendler, President and CEO of SPI Automation Automated technology, Inc. states,
“Automation has changed the nature of manufacturing jobs and robotic automation intensified that change. I often hear fears that robotic automation is driving jobs away and that isn’t true. The reality is that workforces today know that automation is a requirement, a necessity to be able to maintain jobs in the U.S. Robotic automation creates better and higher paying jobs by workers improving their skills in order to program, maintain, and leverage robots by improving their skill sets. There has never been a greater demand for workers having the skills necessary to service and program robots regardless of the industry they are deployed in.”
Once you’ve decided automated technology is the right investment for your business, the next step is to choose the right automation partner. The goal is to find someone who can truly understand and commit to helping you work through the challenges of integrating automated processes into your workflow so your company can begin reaping the benefits of increased productivity.