Much has been made recently of automation’s “tipping point.” Although some who hear the term envision a robot takeover, the reality is a much quieter revolution of the way we work.
According to a September 2018 World Economic Forum study, more than half of the work done worldwide by 2025 will be completed by some form of automation technology. In some fields, that tipping point will come even sooner: Information technology and data processing, for instance, is on track to reach the more-automated-than-human mark by 2022.
While 2022 might sound a long way off, the truth is that automation software is already taking on remarkably human roles. Today, automation conducts one-fifth of business decision-making as measured by task hours, the World Economic Forum report claims. By 2022, that ratio will be close to one-third.
The report also notes, however, that there are broad disparities in automation’s applications. While some enterprises use it for everything from data entry to recruiting to content creation, others have yet to touch it at all.
Automation for All
Fortunately, no matter where your company lies on that spectrum, there are four ways in which it can start or strengthen its application of automation:
1. Kick busywork to the curb.
Every industry, company, and role involves a certain amount of rote work. Although some, like data entry, are obvious targets for what’s called robotic process automation, others may not be so clear-cut. Government agencies like NASA, for instance, use RPA to “read” budgets and distribute funds between offices. In the next five to seven years, a Deloitte report found, such RPA applications could save the federal government 1.1 billion working hours per year — or around $37 billion annually.
But it’s not just the public sector that sees the sense in RPA. Email automation provider Mixmax’s latest suite of tools, known as “Mixmax 2.0,” features Beast Mode, a task automator that customer-facing roles at enterprise companies use to efficiently complete batches of tasks. In a press release, Mixmax CEO and co-founder Olof Mathé described Mixmax 2.0 as a broadside against busywork: “Our goal with Beast Mode, Dialer, and Auto Create is singular: empower business users to focus on their jobs.”
2. Do more with data visualization.
To focus on their jobs, however, business users need a clear picture of where opportunities lie. Again, automation has an answer, or at least a partner: exploratory data analysis. In a nutshell, EDA is the process of using algorithms to point out patterns, identify anomalies, and check assumptions through graphical representations. Although EDA can visualize “fun” issues, like who’s actually the main character in the television show “Friends,” its business applications are almost endless.
“At the very least,” argues Dino Fire, president of market research and analytics at datadecisions Group, “the EDA may reveal aspects of your company’s performance that others may not have seen.” For newer users, Fire suggests using a logistic model for a new take on customer segmentation. By ingesting customer data like net promoter score, purchasing behavior, and demographic variables, logistic models can show similarities between the company’s most satisfied customers and predict whether unscored customers are satisfied.
3. Create an automation center.
Data analysis, however, is one small area in the vast landscape of business automation. To keep up with the ballooning number of types and tools, four in 10 enterprises will have created automation centers by the end of this year, according to Forrester’s Predictions 2019 report. The point of these platforms, Forrester vice president and principal analyst J. P. Gownder explains in his report analysis, is to align the right automation solution with the right use case.
Although choosing a tool to complete a task might seem simple enough, Deloitte’s “Automate This” report makes clear it’s not. Two types of automation the report explores, for example, sound awfully similar: robotic process automation and intelligent automation. In fact, their use cases are practically opposites; RPA tools can tackle methodical, routine tasks at a relatively low implementation cost. IA ones, on the other hand, are for narrow, non-routine tasks that require thoughtful consideration and involve steep startup costs.
4. Integrate AI with other technologies.
Enterprises don’t use RPA, IA, or any other AI tool in a vacuum. As companies become more comfortable with AI, digital transformation expert Daniel Newman predicts, they’ll combine AI technologies with others in increasingly complex and valuable ways. “Convergence should be a top priority for leaders across industries everywhere,” Newman stresses.
Take, for example, how the oil and gas industry has paired AI with Internet of Things technology. By using machine learning to analyze data gathered by IoT sensors, operators can diagnose malfunctions, predict part failures, and optimize pump performance. Not only does the system reduce downtime and increase output, but it improves worker safety and decreases the possibility of environmental disaster.
Artificial intelligence might seem like it’s years away from its professional prime, and it certainly may be. But while automatons aren’t walking around most workplaces yet, AI is making its mark in more subtle, software-centric ways. By freeing workers from routine work, identifying hidden opportunities, and optimizing existing processes, AI is charging toward a tipping point that employees and employers alike should welcome.