“No single word strikes so much fear in the heart of today’s worker as ‘automation’. Huge advances in technology enable businesses to automate many manual labour processes through either machines or software, unlocking huge cost and time saving opportunities. Businesses and labourers need to be aware of the challenges they’ll face in this technologically advanced world if they are to survive and thrive.”
So says Alexander Mehlhorn, CEO of software development company Exclr8, which helps businesses evolve by automating much of their business processes. Automation enables businesses to handle greater volumes, ensure strict quality standards are met, and respond to customer demands more quickly and more accurately.
According to Mehlhorn, there are two types of automation: machine based automation, which involves actual machines replacing labourers in fields such as mining and manufacturing; and business process automation, which involves replacing manual processes with software solutions that make any business run more efficiently and effectively.
He says that workers’ fears that automation will cause mass job losses is hard to quantify. “If a company employs 50 people and makes a strategic decision to automate some of its processes, it’s unlikely that the employees will be let go. The primary objective of automation is to enable the business to be more efficient and handle a greater volume of work. The natural thing to do is to expand, and for this you’ll need to redeploy your workers to oversee the automated processes and handle the increased workload.”
He adds that the global workforce has already survived a similar scenario. “During the Industrial Revolution many manual processes fell to the factory machines and large numbers of workers were without jobs. But entire new industries sprung up, creating huge numbers of jobs in previously non-existent fields. Businesses today should focus on optimising their business processes so that they remain competitive, lest they lose out to competitors and end up having to close down.”
Business process automation breaks down all the steps in a particular business process and finds ways to automate parts of it. But many companies misunderstand its true value. “Within a standard set of business processes, most business owners still think that a person will be required to determine what happens next – looking into available inventory, dispatching a courier, scheduling a technician to repair a technical fault – but these are precisely the types of processes that should be automated. Companies that refuse to do so won’t be able to handle the same volumes that competitors can, or be as quick to market, or respond to customers as quickly as those that automate.”
Mehlhorn is adamant that it is the customer at the end of the day that really wins. “Let’s say you’re sick and you go to the doctor. He prescribes some medicine and you go to the nearest pharmacy to have the prescription filled. Often this means standing in a queue, waiting for the pharmacist to prepare the prescription, then taking the medication to the till counter to pay. If you automate the process, the doctor could be directly linked to the pharmacy via a cloud-based network. Once he’s seen the patient, he enters the details of the prescription into the system, and the pharmacist receives a notification to start preparing it. When the patient arrives, he simply picks up the medication and, because he’s already on the pharmacy’s system, he gets automatically billed. No queues, no inefficiency – just pure convenience.”
“Which company would you rather be doing business with?”