An early development of sequential control was relay logic, by which electrical relays engage electrical contacts which either start or interrupt power to a device. Relays were first used in telegraph networks before being developed for controlling other devices, such as when starting and stopping industrial-sized electric motors or opening and closing solenoid valves. Using relays for control purposes allowed event-driven control, where actions could be triggered out of sequence, in response to external events. These were more flexible in their response than the rigid single-sequence cam timers. More complicated examples involved maintaining safe sequences for devices such as swing bridge controls, where a lock bolt needed to be disengaged before the bridge could be moved, and the lock bolt could not be released until the safety gates had already been closed.
The White House report points in particular to the current wave of AI, which it describes as having begun around 2010. That’s when advances in machine learning and the increasing availability of big data and enhanced computation power began providing computers with unprecedented capabilities such as the ability to accurately recognize images. The report says greater deployment of AI and automation could boost economic growth by creating new types of jobs and improving efficiency in many businesses. But it also points to the negative effects: job destruction and related increases in income inequality. For now at least, “less educated workers are more likely to be replaced by automation than highly educated ones.” The report notes that so far automation has displaced few higher-skill workers, but it adds: “The skills in which humans have maintained a comparative advantage are likely to erode over time as AI and new technologies become more sophisticated.”
Automation professionals do and will continue to play a crucial role in protecting us from cyber-attack; enhancing our quality of life; and ensuring the reliability, efficiency, safety, constant improvement, and competitiveness of our electric power systems, transportation systems, manufacturing operations, and industry as a whole. Without these individuals, we cannot advance into the future.
Thomas H. Davenport is the President’s Distinguished Professor in Management and Information Technology at Babson College, a research fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and a senior adviser at Deloitte Analytics. Author of over a dozen management books, his latest is Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines.
The U.S. government, among many others, recognizes the unsung value of automation professionals. Support for the importance of automation to industry comes from the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations. On 30 June 2009, the committee submitted report language (including the excerpt shown below) to accompany the bill: H. R. 2847 (Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010) emphasizing the importance of automation to industry:
In this case, you could check the screens to see if they still created a user with the right setup, but once that's done, there's no need to recheck that create use works over and over. Instead, consider creating actual command-line parameters to speed up testing. In the example at the client, a simple command-line tool could have flipped the ratio from one hour a day of testing and seven hours of setup to seven hours of testing and one hour of setup.
One could also argue that RPA lays the groundwork for machine learning and more intelligent applications. It both gathers useful data and is being combined with AI capabilities. One of us (O’Dell) recently interviewed Eric Siegel, a predictive analytics expert and author of the book, Predictive Analytics: The Power to Predict Who Will Click, Buy, Lie, or Die. Siegel pointed out an often overlooked benefit of starting by digitizing processes with simple RPA: the digital bread crumbs it now leaves behind. “This data wasn’t amassed in order to do machine learning. It’s just a side effect of doing business as usual. The transactional residue accumulates and, lo and behold, it turns out this stuff is really valuable because you can learn from it. You can derive these patterns to help improve the very transactional processes that have been accumulating the data in the first place.”
To cut through all of it and figure out what's most relevant to you, imagine a typical day at home. Are there any devices you regularly turn on and off? Do you regularly adjust your home environment depending on what you're doing? Those regular habits and activities are typically the best candidates for automation. Figure out which ones are most important to you, and you'll have a much better idea of what to look for as you start shopping around.
Within BPM, automated business processes are managed collectively to improve an organization’s overall workflow in terms of achieving greater efficiency, adapting to changing business needs, reducing human error and clarifying job roles and responsibilities. BPM is itself a subset of infrastructure management, which maintains and optimizes an organization's core operational components such as processes, equipment and data.