Automation is a broad concept that applies to modern workplaces in more than obvious ways. How is your workplace truly automated?
- Workplace automation is widely available, often taking the form of software tools in commonly used programs.
- There is scope for greater automation in almost any business, across all industries.
- Automation will not replace people, but it will free them from performing normal and repetitive tasks.
- This article is for business owners who are keen to learn how workplace automation can benefit their business by freeing up resources and improving consistency.
There was a time when the term “automation” was synonymous with advanced factories full of robots. While replacing human labor with robotic labor is a prime example of workplace automation. It is far from the only example. Automation is present in modern businesses of all sizes — including subtle features in popular software applications. And more obvious applications such as self-driving vehicles or autonomous robots.
There is much debate about where workplace automation will drive the economy. But observers tend to agree that this trend is gaining momentum. Every business process is on the table for automation, especially as technology becomes more complex. Automation will undoubtedly change the workplace and the broader economy. The only question: to what extent?
What is workplace automation?
There is a common misconception that automation involves towering robots. But it can be as simple as a set of tools found within common business software programs. At its core, automation is about implementing a system to complete repetitive and easily repetitive tasks without the need for human labor.
“Automation takes many forms,” said Fred Townes, chief product officer of READY Education. “For small businesses, the most important thing is [repetition]. When you find something you do more than once that adds value… you want to look at automation.”
Historically, automation required expensive servers and a team of experts to maintain it. For many small businesses, this has been an expensive procedure that puts automation out of reach. With the development of cloud-based platforms, Townes said, automation tools are now available to even the smallest of businesses.
Examples of common workplace automation
According to Townes, by automating repetitive business processes. Employees are freed up for tasks. Those that are more valuable than those that can be done by machines. Automating higher-order tasks that need greater adaptability, such as machine learning, is now possible with more advanced automation. The ability of these programs to learn over time means that they delve into huge sets of data quickly and effectively, before contextualizing that information in a way that is useful to support internal decision-making.
These are some of the ways workplace automation is already being adopted by forward-thinking companies:
1. Email Marketing
Many small business owners already use at least one form of automation: email marketing. Companies like Zoho and Constant Contact offer software that allows users to customize email marketing campaign parameters to their liking and then set them to run automatically. You can learn more about the automation capabilities of these platforms in our Zoho CRM review and our Constant Contact review.
You can send an introductory email to a contact after adding them to the software. The original email is followed up by a follow-up email a few days later.
2. Talent Acquisition and Recruitment
Machine learning automation is making headway in talent acquisition and employee recruitment. Said Kriti Sharma, vice president of robotics and artificial intelligence at accounting and payroll software company Sage. For HR departments, automating processes such as tracking potential candidates. And scheduling interviews saves workers time to determine who is best suited for their organization. [Read related article: Payroll Service Selection Guide]
“It is a huge pain to hire the right people,” Sharma said. “A lot happens in hiring systems, using AI to match the right people with the right team for the right projects.”
3. Customer Service
Customer service departments are also getting an automated transformation through the introduction of tools such as chatbots and automated text message marketing solutions. These consumer-facing tools automate typical customer service interactions by responding to common queries instantly. They only refer customers to a representative when the chatbot is not sufficient to meet their needs.
An algorithm will never be able to take a customer out for coffee or negotiate a deal as effectively as a trained salesperson. However, automation can save time for these human-centric interactions, as McKinsey estimates that a third of all sales tasks can be automated. Here are some examples of those tasks.
- Finding leads: predicting when customers might benefit from contacting them
- Invoicing: Credit check, billing for existing and new customers
- Processing orders: order processing, inventory management, sales inquiries
- Shipment tracking: dispatch, delivery and return notifications; Payment and refund declarations
- Customer management: Account management, including regular check-in emails
5. Human Resources
Due to the predictable and repetitive nature of HR duties – such as payroll and timesheets – digitization can transform management efficiency. By reducing errors caused by human error, such as an HR employee forgetting to update submitted schedules. It is possible to automate performance management, paid vacations, and keeping absenteeism records.
The software can raise scores if quotas are reached or lost, keeping accurate records updated in real time. There are also utilities that automate the setup process with Google Forms, including pre-written emails, event scheduling, and distribution of training materials.
automatic for people
Opportunities to automate common processes in the workplace exist everywhere, which is why automation has become a common element in every business. This includes providing good customer service, simplifying the hiring process or managing marketing campaigns more efficiently. As technology improves, more tasks will become suitable for automation.
Machine learning as an engine for more complex automation
Machine learning and artificial intelligence enable new forms of “smart” automation. The more you learn the program, the more adaptable it becomes. These technologies open the door to automating higher-order tasks as well as basic, repetitive tasks.
“I think there’s a lot of focus right now on these tasks that humans don’t want to do,” Sharma said. “But what will happen in the future is … that automation will not only be about automating those tasks that humans do today, but it will be about realizing potential opportunities.”
As data sets become more comprehensive and available, and as software draws on more sources and synthesizes more data points, contextual information in human decision-making will only improve. Machine learning will complement – or perhaps even enhance – human knowledge. Combine AI capabilities with enhanced data retention through the Internet of Things (IoT), and the possibilities are endless.
Townes suggested that a shift toward more engaging user experiences with machine learning software is already underway. To make interaction with these tools more natural and intuitive, he said companies will begin designing artificial intelligence and automated technologies for a more vibrant human experience.
To make customer service chatbots appear more human, Sage has intentionally built flaws in its AI. For example, a user’s question may already be answered in a queue by a chatbot, but Sage has built a small “think” delay into its system to simulate a more human interaction with customer service. The ellipsis in the chat box indicates that the bot is preparing a response, even though it immediately pulls the queried information. Initial user feedback on the feature was very positive, reflecting the desire for a more human interactive experience.
“Things will become more and more accessible,” Sharma said. These technologies will never replace the human, but they will relieve the human of things that are relatively less valuable. [Humans] will instead be able to focus on those things that require creativity and touch. We’ll see more and better accessible experiences, and we’ll see humans move to higher and better levels of use.”
For individuals, the trauma of an increasingly automated world can be difficult to process. According to Sharma, successfully integrating automation into human life begins with a comprehensive effort to educate people about what automation is. This also extends to what is not, and what it means to them.
“Users are often surprised at first [with the automation capabilities],” Sharma added. “The first time they see something spontaneously, it’s a bit of a delight and it’s also a little scary until you show them the process the program went through. It’s more of a learning challenge, not a technical issue.”
Reducing the pain of moving
The steady march of automation in the workplace has stimulated debate about the future of a fully automated economy. Efficiency, convenience, and profitability top the list, but so do concerns about the fate of workers whose jobs have been automated to exist. There are many proposals to support displaced people in an increasingly automated world, such as retraining programs or universal basic income.
When it comes to supporting those left behind in the automated economy, there are more questions than answers, with many competing viewpoints. Some observers, such as Jobcase CEO Fred Goff, predict that expanded access to education and networking opportunities will provide workers with an opportunity to reshape their careers. They will find a way in the new economy to support themselves and their families.
“The same kind of technology that takes away some workers also opens up new opportunities,” Goff said.
“Work life has changed so much that everyone is basically their own free agent. Managing yourself has become the main idea in the last 10 years, and so we try to empower people through tools and open forums.”
Jobcase is a community of 70 million people, including experts and professionals in various industries. In terms of education, Goff pointed to resources like Khan Academy, which offers free courses on various topics, such as economics and coding. Certification of skills acquired on these platforms is increasingly likely to come from the completion of independent assignments, rather than from academic institutions.
“The advent of gig platforms and 1,099 workers has increasingly shattered the concept of skill certification,” Goff said. “It can be difficult to get this full-time job, but building on contracted experience is a way to check competency. In the world of education and training, that means separating the certification of your education from the delivery of your education.”
Automation for efficiency and profitability
Ironically, minimal business process automation is the bottom line. Process automation saves time. And allows resources to be transferred elsewhere. This means companies can remain leaner and more flexible.
Efficiency, increased productivity and lower costs translate into better profit margins for businesses – small and large alike. It remains to be seen to what extent automation will change the economy in general. But it seems inevitable that we are heading towards a future of more automation. [Learn more about the best marketing automation products in our Buyer’s Guide.]