Much like the revolution created by the advent of the world wide web in the 1990s, automation promises to change the face of business. Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics will inevitably transform today’s business landscape.
According to a June 2019 study, “How Robots Change the Work,” by global advisory firm Oxford Economics, “The number of robots in use worldwide multiplied threefold over the past two decades, to 2.25 million. Trends suggest the global stock of robots will multiply even faster in the next 20 years, reaching as many as 20 million by 2030.” (These figures were derived from an econometric analysis by Oxford Economics involving various studies on robotics.)
“It's already become obvious that automation is going to alter and disrupt every corner of the global economy,” says David Sessford, CEO of Ready Steady Sell. His company’s website and marketing operations have been affected by automation. They plan to use AI-powered digital agents for managing customer relations online in the future.
“Even now, we're already seeing the first effects of robotics in retail stores, as well as AI-powered chatbots on e-commerce websites,” says Sessford. “Companies that understand the automation shift early and navigate it with aplomb will be the ones left standing when the dust settles.”
Almost all business functions and industries are being affected by automation, believes Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor at the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business.
“This includes retail, manufacturing, healthcare, financial, publishing, banking, accounting and real estate,” he says.
What Are the Benefits of Automation?
The use of robots and artificial intelligence can result in:
- improved operational efficiency and productivity,
- cost savings in manufacturing and service,
- better customer personalization online,
- increased safety and
- less tedious work.
“Just about every business has services or repetitive processes that could benefit from automation,” says Leonard Callejo, director of online marketing at Cisco Webex, a web and videoconferencing software company with a large remote workforce.
“It’s not just about robotics—it’s about using technology to augment humans and improve their productivity or performance in their occupations,” continues Callejo. “Automation has impacted Cisco in a positive way, greatly improving the productivity of our employees in the way they work and collaborate. This enables workers to focus on higher value tasks and perform at higher levels.”
How Automation Will Change Business
Over the next several years as AI and robotics become a business mainstay, a wide variety of changes will ensue. Here are five ways running a company will change in response to automation.
1. Change in operations focus.
“The future of automation involves technology that optimizes the end-to-end supply chain from the company’s suppliers through to its customers,” says Ali Raza, founder and CEO of ThroughPut, an operations AI company focused on preventing workflow bottlenecks.
“Organizational focus will shift from getting products to customers faster than the competition, versus at the best prices. This will result in industrial companies moving from being price-centric to velocity-centric,” says Raza.
Such a shift has occurred in response to automation at Hausera, a kitchen and bathroom plumbing supply company.
“One of the biggest changes automation has made at Hausera is the fact that we're much closer to a just-in-time supply chain than ever before,” says Hausera’s founder Sean Hayes. “Automation has allowed our warehouses and distribution centers and industry partners and vendors to get products into consumers' hands with little to no delay from the time an order is placed.”
2. Robots will become “co-workers.”
“Robots are now multipurpose and can be trained for a task by just repeating it, not [by] being programmed,” continues Jones. “Additionally, robots are performing dangerous tasks, so we don’t have to, like cleaning massive oil tanks, inspecting pipelines or helping first responders.”
3. Better customer service will be possible.
“In the near future, many of the hardest parts of business operations will be handled by machines, leaving business owners and their staff to focus on taking care of customers,” says Hayes. “Many back-office functions can be turned over to a machine with little disruption, freeing up resources that would be better used in marketing or customer service roles.”
4. Knowledge workers will be greatly affected.
Individuals who “think” for a living, such as computer programmers, engineers, scientists, lawyers and communication experts, will feel the most change with automation initially, believes Hugh Dyar, senior vice-president of marketing for Sapience Analytics, an analytics company.
The takeaway for automation strategy is not when to automate, but where to automate. The first step involves streamlining processes and bringing them into control, at which point they’re easier to scale.
—Ali Raza, founder and CEO, ThroughPut
“The emergence of robotic process automation (RPA) has automated mundane, repetitive, predictable tasks, allowing knowledge workers to focus on higher value work,” continues Dyar. “These mundane tasks that will be automated include complex, but predictable activities, from monitoring the health of networks servers to simpler activities such as transcribing prescriptions. The impact is pervasive and will affect all industries.”
5. Online operations will be the first to transform.
“Online services will change the most in the next few years as a result of automation,” says Raviraj Hegde, head of growth for Donorbox, a donation platform for nonprofits.
“Small-business owners who run their own fabrication workshops, for instance, would need to hire automation specialists to design robotic equipment for them,” says Hegde. “On the other hand, a website that wants to streamline its operations can hire a single coder.”
Preparing for Automation
To prepare your company for the changes ahead, it’s a good idea to examine your existing processes and workflows to see which ones would benefit from automation.
“The takeaway for automation strategy is not when to automate, but where to automate,” says Raza. “The first step involves streamlining processes and bringing them into control, at which point they’re easier to scale.”
Before businesses adopt process automation, it’s a good idea to figure out what tasks to automate, agrees Dyar.
“That decision should be based on the value and the cost of the tasks. Look at workflow to identify processes that are labor intensive and determine the parts of those processes that drive the most cost.”
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