About a year later, someone calling himself or herself Etherable posted a query to Workplace on Stack Exchange, one of the web’s most important forums for programmers: “Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I’ve automated my job?” The conflicted coder described accepting a programming gig that had turned out to be “glorified data entry”—and, six months ago, writing scripts that put the entire job on autopilot. After that, “what used to take the last guy like a month, now takes maybe 10 minutes.” The job was full-time, with benefits, and allowed Etherable to work from home. The program produced near-perfect results; for all management knew, its employee simply did flawless work.
Automation, the application of machines to tasks once performed by human beings or, increasingly, to tasks that would otherwise be impossible. Although the term mechanization is often used to refer to the simple replacement of human labour by machines, automation generally implies the integration of machines into a self-governing system. Automation has revolutionized those areas in which it has been introduced, and there is scarcely an aspect of modern life that has been unaffected by it.
Once processes are built and tested it's time to roll them out to the relevant users. In some cases this could be the entire employee population, in other cases, it could be a single department, outside vendors or customers. Access to processes is provided through a Web portal where users can submit requests, check statuses or complete tasks depending on their role. This self-service portal houses all processes and forms but many employees will also interact through email alerts.
Using automation, your team member would select the department and the position they are hiring and download the automated checklist. This checklist would update to reflect the necessary tasks to recruit and onboard this type of employee. Each interviewee gets a fresh checklist, and all the interview and hiring information is automatically stored in a central location. Once the choice is made, the hiring process pushes the information to the onboarding process.
For example, CUNA Mutual’ s pilot program focused on automating transactional activities for its claims adjusters. Not only did the pilot meet the strategic goal to increase capacity without increasing headcount, it also gave claims adjusters time to be more strategic in their assessments of claim payments and denials and allowed the finance team the opportunity to be more strategic in executing their process. This level of satisfaction is a rarity for many IT applications. Meeting expectations may be easier for automation and robotics given they often have a clear process to automate and a measurable business case.
“When I started, my job literally took me eight hours a day,” an early self-automator, whom I’ll call Gary, told me. He worked for a large corporate hotel chain that was beginning to computerize its workflow in the ’90s. Gary quickly recognized that he was spending a lot of his time repeating the same tasks, so he started learning to code after-hours. “Over the course of about three months, I built a piece of code in Lotus [1-2-3, then a popular PC spreadsheet program] that not only automated individual repetitive tasks, it effectively automated the entire job,” he says. He didn’t tell his bosses exactly what he had done, and the quality of his working life improved considerably.
The nature of home automation devices can also be a problem for security, since patches to bugs found in the core operating system often do not reach users of older and lower-price devices. One set of researchers say that the failure of vendors to support older devices with patches and updates leaves more than 87% of active devices vulnerable.
Business processes are the series of activities that companies put in place to create a product or to benefit another internal workflow. Business processes can cut across various departments and often impact customer satisfaction. Workflows are visual diagrams that help automate these processes by increasing ease of use, speed of production, and consistency.
Automation of homes and home appliances is also thought to impact the environment, but the benefits of these features are also questioned. A study of energy consumption of automated homes in Finland showed that smart homes could reduce energy consumption by monitoring levels of consumption in different areas of the home and adjusting consumption to reduce energy leaks (such as automatically reducing consumption during the nighttime when activity is low). This study, along with others, indicated that the smart home’s ability to monitor and adjust consumption levels would reduce unnecessary energy usage. However, new research suggests that smart homes might not be as efficient as non-automated homes. A more recent study has indicated that, while monitoring and adjusting consumption levels does decrease unnecessary energy use, this process requires monitoring systems that also consume a significant amount of energy. This study suggested that the energy required to run these systems is so much so that it negates any benefits of the systems themselves, resulting in little to no ecological benefit.
Stepping up may be an option for only a small minority of the labor force. But a lot of brain work is equally valuable and also cannot be codified. Stepping aside means using mental strengths that aren’t about purely rational cognition but draw on what the psychologist Howard Gardner has called our “multiple intelligences.” You might focus on the “interpersonal” and “intrapersonal” intelligences—knowing how to work well with other people and understanding your own interests, goals, and strengths.
With automation, processes can perform in ways that optimize the amount of human support needed. This shift—moving the burden of processes from humans to technology—has the potential to redesign the way work gets done within an enterprise. Simple automation of processes can eliminate errors, reduce biases and perform transactional work in a fraction of the time it takes humans. And with the application of artificial intelligence, these point robotic process fixes have now evolved into intelligent interactions and processes.