Boaz Nur, RVP of Strategic Accounts, Workato, looks at the future of automation and how it can affect hybrid working.
Last month, the government presented proposals to make the right to request flexible working from day one of employment a legal right. If legislation is passed, working practices in the UK could formally change forever.
While many businesses are already running temporary blended or hybrid models of working where staff only come into the office a few days a week, legalising flexible working as a standard practice will force employers to officially formalise it as a standard practice.
Transitioning to a hybrid model will bring its own challenges but the use of automation could prove to be integral to businesses making a success of the hybrid model.
The state of automation today
Automation is of critical importance in today’s economy. Put simply, the value of automation is that it reduces work, which in turn reduces costs, while at the same time enabling new products and services to be developed. Any organisation that wants to both reduce costs and be able to offer new products and services must consider automation; it is fundamental to the viability and competitiveness of many businesses.
Of course, this concept is not new. Ever since we first created the wheel, humans have been trying to automate work to make repetitive tasks easier to complete. More recently, business process automation has focused on back-office work. For instance, the finance and HR departments have traditionally been good places to invest in automation. Automating routine tasks such as onboarding new starters, order-to-cash or quote-to-cash, or accounts payable, has become commonplace.
Many organisations are now looking to automate business processes that will make them more competitive. These areas include customer support automation: businesses are putting in automated processes to respond to customer complaints or to update a customer regarding a request. The better these processes become, the faster the issues can be resolved, and the greater the customer satisfaction.
Sales and marketing departments are also seeing automation take place. From responding faster to inbound sales enquiries, to automatically creating marketing content, purchasing ad spaces and subsequently analysing the campaign. Indeed, the pandemic exposed how far companies are lacking behind when it comes to digital transformation. By automating business processes companies can make themselves more adaptable to withstand future unpredictability and other global events that may impact their operations.
The future of automation
The trend in the industry is that things are changing rapidly. Instead of months or even years of soft solution design, followed by developing, testing and production, the goal is to test and iterate much more quickly. In the advertising space, for instance, AB testing allows marketers to get adverts out into the market and see which are working.
It’s now theoretically possible to design and release a product, test it and release a fix 30 minutes later, all thanks to automation. That beats the previous process of doing months of work with very little feedback.
In the future, the process of iteration could itself be automated, where the platform measures the efficiency of a process and automatically fixes any weak points. At the moment, this kind of continuous process of improvement – the automation of automation – involves too many variables, and so iteration will likely remain a manual process involving human input, but the technology is heading in that direction.
In the meantime, automation remains high on the C-suite radar. It impacts both a business’s top line and bottom line simultaneously in a non-trivial way. Automation software like Workato is an important addition because it allows executives to actually measure the amount of money automation created or saved. Not all software can do that effectively or convincingly.
How automation can benefit hybrid workers
Whenever a business is thinking about automating a business process, they generally consider two axes: will it help to save time, or will it help to save money? But they could also consider how it will benefit staff. Automating away the drudgery will make their work more pleasant – and happier staff are generally more productive.
For instance, one of the core values of a global company we work with is that they want to automate as many manual tasks as possible to make the lives of their employees better. They would prefer their employees to have a little bit more free time, or time to learn new skill, or even just time to make a coffee, rather than spend that time trying to maintain manual systems.
Trying to maintain old, outdated systems can be a miserable job: when it breaks, it’s your fault and when it works, no one even notices. This is particularly a problem in larger organisations, especially banks and logistics companies; when we work with these kinds of businesses, more often than not we’re helping to replace old, awkward software that doesn’t work well and which stores data across fragmented systems. They use automation to make their processes smoother, easier to maintain and more robust. They also use it to collate fragmented data stored across diverse systems.
- TBTech Events’ October webinar: intelligent automation
- The time to turn automation talk into action is right now – think big, or go home
- Using AI and Automation to improve customer experience
- The rise of lights-out automation in medtech
So whichever department staff work in, automating those unfulfilling tasks will benefit hybrid workers by enabling them to spend less time on routine, manual tasks that are time-consuming and not very engaging. Instead, they will have time to focus on more strategic tasks that add value across the entire business. This complements hybrid and remote work: without the distractions of the office, workers are able to focus much more deeply on complex tasks that require their full concentration and creativity – work that is ultimately more fulfilling.