“#FIJ wins gold in men’s rugby, beating #GBR. Barbara Engleder
#GER wins shooting gold in women’s 50m rifle 3 positions, beating Zhang Binbin #CHN.”
These are just exemplifications of the tweets covering the Rio Olympics, crafted by Washington Post’s new journalist, who’s been working tirelessly and has been ‘recruited’ into the team without any contract for taking weekends off! Meet Heliograf, the unassuming bot running on AI technology, that’s already made news with its extensive automated, on-the-spot (and spot-on) coverage of the Rio Olympics being posted almost in real time on the broadcaster’s Twitter and Facebook channels and website, and its reports and analysis spun out for the real reporters to flesh out on its blog and news stories. It’s a way to free up the journalists, so they can get down to doing what they can do best, which is great journalism. Janelle Hill of Gartner asserts that it’s not about taking people out of the process, but getting them back to doing what they are good at.
Automation is intrinsic to our life; without us blinking to notice its backstage presence
Automated storytelling software, or for that matter automation is not new to us. It only continues to enthrall and amaze us while entrenching itself deeper in our everyday lives. Traditionally, the word automation may have flashed images in our mind of the world-class production facility built by automobile giant Toyota, with robot arms swishing at specific angles and AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) scuttling around to achieve lean manufacturing and minimization of waste.
Today, there is hardly a chance that automation won’t cross our path in our normal daily routine. For instance, after you wake up in the morning, your fitness band will automatically calculate how many calories you have burned during your walk or jog. That’s automation at work. Then there is that ATM you may visit on your way to the office to withdraw a few hundred bucks (that’s an automated teller machine, remember?). And when you drive down to the office, you may need to push a button on an automated parking system that generates a ticket and lifts the barrier arm (again automation). And this list goes on. At work, you enter all your customer leads data into a CRM. You also notice that the other sales management tool you use has been patched overnight. During lunch, you visit a nearby restaurant and use their tablet to place your meal order. And before you head home, you pick up some groceries from the local supermarket and pay through their self-checkout system. On returning home, your house lights automatically dim down to suit your liking. Post dinner, you catch up on a tennis match on TV and notice a match-winning decision supported by Hawk-Eye. You surf channels and notice a football referee on field promptly and confidently announcing a critical decision (thanks to the wristband around his arm that automatically vibrates if the ball crosses the line). Another channel relaying a live cricket match shows a decision supported by the Third Umpire, and later, a batsman being declared ‘not out’ using Hot Spot technology. And finally, before you tuck yourself in bed, you program your geyser to warm up to exactly 85 F at 7 am the next morning.
What are we going to wake up to next?
The Boston Consulting Group reports that robots now perform roughly 10% of the manufacturing tasks that can be done by machines. They estimate this figure to surge to 25% by 2025.
McKinsey & Company estimates that if an ideal level of automation were reached, then close to 50% of all full-time employees in operations could be relieved of their current back-office tasks. The McKinsey Global Institute ranks ‘automation of knowledge work’ at number two position on their list of disruptive technologies that are predicted to transform business operations by 2025. Many of the jobs that exist today (over 100 million!) won’t be around by then.
It goes on to estimate that 30% or more of all the current work tasks for 60% of all US jobs allow themselves to be automated with existing technologies. It goes on to predict that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with businesses without interacting with a human.
“Now, the world is moving towards the next stage of the industrial revolution, where the focus is on building a new generation of cyber-physical systems that improve productivity by delivering fully connected, intelligent manufacturing systems capable of supporting high levels of customization, flexibility, and end-to-end manufacturing process automation.” – marketsandmarkets.com
Research giant Gartner expounds this: Automation improves accountability, efficiency, and predictability while reducing cost, variability, and risk. It predicts that 75% of businesses will boast of more than four diverse automation technologies at their workplace by 2017, as compared to just 20% what it was in 2014. And by 2018, 20% of all business content will be authored by a machine, giving off several job positions of writers.
Stay competitive. Automate!
Most of the newly developed variety of disparate applications you need to get your work done efficiently may not talk to your legacy systems, and the problem with point-to-point integration is that it isn’t scalable. So in the pursuit of your vision of growth and global competency standards, if you are being bogged down with complex and time-consuming regulatory compliance procedures, voluminous file transfers, lengthy onboarding and offboarding practices, or any kind of inefficient routine processes which may be necessary but don’t justify the cost, you would worry about how you’re going to get to the goalpost before your competitors.
When you have large ground to cover, begin with achieving small victories – harvest low hanging fruits that you can easily pluck and reduce your payback period to just about a year, making it easy to justify the further investment into automating other processes. Let’s see how others have done it.
7 ways automation can help your business stay competitive, just as it has for these:
Reduce carbon footprint = save energy = save money
Begin with something relatively doable such as saving on energy cost. Keep a watchful eye on those PCs that haven’t been switched off at night, the extra lights that can be switched off under which there are no customers currently, or even the AC or heating that can be turned down cyclically at optimal levels. A study conducted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) states that total energy savings from initiatives taken individual levels at homes can range between 0.3 to 1.1 quadrillion BTUs, which equates to 1% to 5% of the total energy consumption from the residential segment. Home automation includes smart blinds, light fixtures and thermostatic controls for HVAC systems.
The Princess Alexandra hospital NHS trust has carved out savings of £27,000 for itself a year after embracing automation and has reduced its carbon footprint by over 420 tons. Another organization, Arup, distinguished for its sustainable designs that transform the built environment, automated a scheduled shutdown of its PCs every day at 7:00 pm across the UK, Middle East and Europe, and is saving approximately on one-third of its PC energy cost while reducing 442 tons of CO2 per year. A large telecommunications company, after reaping the benefits of automation in its billing department, extended it to the other departments to support new capabilities. The result: a 406% ROI, a payback of just 2.4 months and average annual savings of $930,025.
If automation of repetitive ENVA (essential non-value added) tasks can save 20% of your time each day, that adds up to a whole day in the week. If applied to a team size of 30 people, you can end up reducing the need for a fresh recruit. Preferred Health Professionals (PHP) automated and saved 50 hours per week after they began to be inundated with rising number of tasks. PHP began with automating just a single process. Just this one task helped their IT save many hours each day. Meldium, an identity management platform for SaaS automated a mechanism that would help bring and aggregate relevant news to them. And voila! They saved over four hours each week. At RKA Petroleum, patching used to take up close to 120 hours a month using three resources. After automation, now just one resource spends only an hour each month on the same.
Take the robot out of the human
Reducing or eliminating the NVA (non-value added) activities and automating the ENVA activities releases employee bandwidth and allows them to focus on their area of expertise (which, assuming they love doing) and contribute to high-value, transformational work, while often raising job satisfaction levels and boosting revenue. That’s also one great way you can extract larger value from human capital. It ends up being a win-win for all.
A travel concierge business automated its questionnaires, email blasts, payment reminders, thank-you emails, and several other processes. As a result, the hours that are freed up help them to channelize their energies in personalizing their clients’ vacations and speaking with them on the phone.
Scale up, increase output
One of the things automation is best known for is its ability to ramp-up production, allowing businesses to fulfill more orders.
That’s precisely what a private publisher did. Having managed just 750 titles over 9 years, they decided to let automation drive them to the future. Within just a couple of years, their catalog grew to include more than 4,000 titles. SNS Bank NV automated their file transfer process and not just improved audibility, the number of employees able to manage those transfers has increased substantially. They have over 210 workflows that are automated, of which 80% make use of its new FTP engine.
Create a nimble environment
Automation allows businesses to reduce response time and improve agility. BJ’s restaurant, which dots a chain of 75 outlets, wanted to stay optimally staffed, considering the thin margins it yielded. So it looked to automation and is now able to implement a menu price change across 75 restaurants in flat 15 mins, as against 3 days to do just 28 restaurants earlier. Ricoh, a world-class provider of document and content management solutions was facing duplication of efforts across geographies, which was apparently not noticed at a local level. After automating their processes, the logic for running them on the workstations and servers could be updated remotely and rather quickly. They also gain from improved audibility and accurate invoicing.
Effective people tracking
Keep a track of your customers and communities, and improve accountability amongst employees.
“At MIT Sloan, our goal is to build a community of innovators for sustainability out of our students and alumni, faculty and researchers, and partners in business, government, and NGOs. That extended community makes for a wide range of contacts and we have started using SalesForce to keep track of everybody. Cirrus Insight lets me create contacts in our database, log emails and see basic info about people when I hear from them, without ever leaving Gmail. It’s a huge help.” — Jason Jay, Director of Sustainability Initiative, MIT Sloan
Improve forecasting accuracy
Spreadsheets may work well when you are a 5-member team. Once you pick up the scale, you would do better with improved forecasting capabilities.
Popcorn, Indiana saw the logic in this and empowered their teams with intelligent tools to arrive at long-term forecasts for securing raw materials, and scheduling transportation to carry larger loads during a promotion. At the end of 60 days, it could confidently reduce its trade promotion spends by over 50%. Moreover, forecasting errors were reduced by 50%.
Let’s now see how specific departments within an organization can take advantage of automation.
The Computer Weekly states that “IT departments spend 30% of their time carrying out basic tasks, and are growing frustrated with the lack of time available to focus on transformational work”. A recent study reveals that more than 33% of all enterprise software purchases go unused. This results in more than $30 billion being wasted each year in the U.S. alone, or about $259 per workstation.
Choosing an automated method for removal of software sprawl not only provides the financial benefit from accurate identification and removal of unused software, but its automated technique enables enterprises to keep pace with the digital change. It enhances security, reduces the effort and time to patch, and frees up the bandwidth of IT professionals to focus on innovation rather than being consumed in basic tasks. What’s more, all this reduces cost. The Technology Solutions Group at HP believes that with automation technology, you can have one technician efficiently managing 200 servers, instead of just 20.
With an effective Automated Endpoint solution, PCs can be built, rebuilt, patched, upgraded and managed easily without disruption in the fastest way possible, making them available when they are needed, and helping IT teams to be more responsive to the needs of the business and its users. IT teams can also benefit from fully automated service delivery through SCCM that eliminates manual effort and accelerates processes. Automation can also help in reducing downtime and reducing Mean Time To Restore (MTTR). Besides, automated programming techniques that help in scaffolding in MVC frameworks and in testing also help save time. McKinsey states that by taking full advantage of automating processes and using IT solutions, banks can often generate an improvement of more than 50% in productivity and customer service.
PwC finds that on an average, direct HR costs account for 28% of overall operating expenses. Ed Lawler and John Boudreau from the Center of Effective Organizations, in a research report, revealed that, on average, over 50% of the time spent by a human resources department is spent in processing employee information and answering employee questions. Automation in the HR department can initiate an automated hiring process, and automate processes linked to taxes and payroll, employment benefits, insurance, and compliance.
The Arizona Department of Administration did just that. Their agency human resources staff was earlier spending substantial time carrying out employment verifications. Through automation, the state successfully eliminated close to 6,700 hours of lost productivity and achieved cost savings of over $165,000 annually.
So large is the scope of automation in the finance function of businesses that researchers at Oxford University and consultants Deloitte, in a recent study predicted that on the basis of the nature of work and the evolution of machine intelligence, charted accountants stand a 95% chance of being replaced by some form of automation in the next two decades. Available solutions for automation claim to decrease manual effort by 90%, improve the time to financial reporting by 70%, and increase the number of books closed each month from 10 to hundreds, with just 20% of existing resources.
Marketing automation is gradually coming of age. McKinsey observes that activities that take up 10% to 15% of a marketing executive’s time can be automated through solutions that already exist today. A recent article on HBR states that 85% of the activities performed by a salesperson have the potential to be automated with today’s technology. Another article on Emailmonday declares that 49% of businesses are already using some form of marketing automation, with close to 55% of all B2B companies embracing it. MarketingSherpa puts a figure of 54% to the number of CMOs that have either begun or completed marketing automation.
The manufacturing sector is poised for a revolution of sorts with new automated systems setting the stage for the emergence of even smarter factories. Packaging can account for 10% to 35% of expenses pertaining to the operational throughput of a processing plant. A poultry business that introduced automation benefited from significant savings, higher packaging speed, and enhancements in product quality, while reducing rework from around 12% to just 2%.
With businesses adopting faster and efficient methods for saving time, money, and resources, while improving agility, and expanding and enhancing the quality of their products and services through technology advancements, automation seems to be one of the key drivers as well as the solution in this disruption.
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