How to decide what to automate in the workplace

choice-of-doors

Automation quickly is becoming a fact of life in the workplace, particularly in manufacturing, marketing and customer service.

While some industries, such as the financial sector, already are heavily utilizing automation to save money, increase efficiency, and empower customers, other sectors or individual enterprises are further behind the automation curve.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to implementing automation in the workplace is deciding where to start. The first steps should be to 1) envision how automation can help the enterprise and 2) to establish goals. Do you want automation to reduce production costs? Do you want it to improve customer service and satisfaction? Or do you want it to streamline the supply chain? (The answer may be “all of the above,” though it’s best to start with one goal and both learn from and build on the experience.)

The next step is to determine which specific activities are good candidates for automation. Marketing website The Drum offers “four golden rules” of automation. While these rules are being proposed for marketers, they provide a good basic rule of thumb for any enterprise professional eager to get rolling on automation. According to The Drum, an activity should be automated if it:

  • Is a repetitive task
  • Is a “time suck”
  • Demands pattern recognition in a large data set
  • Ties you to a fixed working point

The first three rules are relatively obvious; that last one really is alluding to automation within the context of worker mobility and flexibility.

“If a task ties you to being in one place to complete it, you should be looking at ways that automation can give you freedom of movement,” The Drum writes. “That could be as simple as whether voice-command tech like Siri or Alexa can give you answers rather than rely on being finger-to-keyboard; or cloud-based systems that means the work follows you around rather than lugging around paperwork, or your go-to digital files being stuck on one device drive only.”

Admittedly the four criteria above are fairly simplistic and geared toward automation newbies. The truth is, as McKinsey notes, “advances in artificial intelligence and its variants, such as machine learning, are challenging our assumptions about what is automatable.”

“It’s no longer the case that only routine, codifiable activities are candidates for automation and that activities requiring ‘tacit’ knowledge or experience that is difficult to translate into task specifications are immune to automation,” the research and consulting firm says.

Absolutely true, and that’s when the conversations about automation turn to how many workers will lose their jobs to machines, robots, chatbots, etc. But automation will only become a bigger part of the enterprise workplace and our larger society. Consequently, IT pros must work with enterprise decision makers to create a strategic framework for implementing automation. It makes sense to focus on the easy stuff first, and then build from there.

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