The role of IT in recovering from this pandemic is undeniably significant. But where does automation fit in to this?
The way businesses operate is fundamentally changing. Everywhere we look, industries are adapting to a way of working we haven’t seen before. Both the immediate threat of coronavirus, and the more enduring impacts of a major societal shift are forcing organisations the world over to find more ingenious, more leaner ways of working. Businesses the world over are now relying on technology like never before to keep things moving at the heart of all this, one could argue, is automation.
Lockdowns and sweeping restrictions have all but shut entire industries, leading to dramatic falls in economic activity and an aversion to investment and growth by those organisations in more favourable positions. This cocktail of impacts, combined with the inherent uncertainty associated with the pandemic, creates an uncomfortable position for businesses, who must seek ways to operate in an environment of heightened instability, logistical challenges and tighter budgets. For many, this means turning to automation.
So, what has the pandemic shown us about automation, and where it stands in our recovery? Here are just a few thoughts.
As lockdown came into force in countries around the world, the logistics of many organisations and their day to day operations were unrecognisably changed. Entire teams working from home, retail units shuttered, and meetings moved to the virtual confines of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and the others. The closure of physical retail stores has pushed entire brands online, with some retailers forced to work almost overnight to create an online presence simply to stay afloat. Within all these operations, is automation processes – placing orders online, booking meetings or uploading data to the cloud – there’s automation in all of it.
Throughout this unprecedented crisis, structural weaknesses in the infrastructure of businesses, from multinational conglomerates to small enterprises have been exposed. An overbearing reliance on physical locations – the offices, distribution centres, and retail outlets operated by our largest organisations have all faced massive disruption, and in many cases led to a near complete pause in activity, like some great diesel locomotive slamming the brakes on, with no obvious way of keeping the contents on their respective journeys. The role of automation in avoiding these same weaknesses could be significant – automating the repetitive and mundane, allowing organisations to devote attention on becoming more flexible and adaptable to change.
This pandemic has created unprecedented staffing challenges, too. Increased sickness rates and the need to furlough or lay off workers has, in some cases, led to dramatic reductions in the labour force, leading organisations to turn to technology and automation to keep things in operation that may otherwise be unfulfilled. For the sectors seeing increased demand, automation has also provided a lifeline – Using unintelligent software automation to free up the valuable time of workers by automating the monotonous tasks they once had to complete by hand.
Coronavirus and the role of automation in our recovery will undoubtedly change the shape and size of some of our organisations. With businesses facing unprecedented financial challenges, automation can be an attractive proposition for managing basic tasks, fulfilling the roles of a comparatively expensive workforce. With up to ⅓ of UK businesses considering reducing the size of their workforce by the end of 2020, the threat of automation displacing workers in perceptively low skilled roles has never been more tangible. For some organisations, the pandemic has shown them a smaller workforce may be more effective. By the end of June, 9.3 Million jobs in the UK were protected under the furlough scheme; and some of those businesses for which the furlough scheme has been a lifeline are now questioning the need for such large workforces – favouring an increased reliance on automation.
Whilst automation is almost certain to play a role in our recovery, the debate over the impacts of its use on the economy and on society as a whole has, as of yet, drawn less clear cut conclusions. Our only true certainty is that automation, and technology as whole, is likely to play an even greater role in our organisations in the months and years to come.
Want to read more about how ITSM is adapting to the ‘new normal’? Take a look at this great article from ITSM.Tools exploring how IT is set to change as we emerge from the pandemic, with insight from a host of industry insiders including Sollertis CEO, Kevin Baker.