IS BUSINESS READY FOR THE process AUTOMATION DIRECTION IN WHICH COVID HAS PUSHED IT? 

COVID-19 has shwon that process automation is crucial.  Corona Virus has set businesses on a path to reduce its pandemic vulnerabilities. Technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, is set to take center stage. Processes of all descriptions will become increasingly automated.

As with the industrial revolution, a new era has dawned, requiring a business to rethink the methods it employs to deliver products and services uninterruptedly.

As with many deeply ingrained concepts, business struggles to let go of the familiar, often redundant, practices to embrace new alternatives. This behavior is mostly fueled by “good old” management techniques, taken too far, in the name of risk avoidance, and sometimes for more sinister reasons.

The Old Guard Is Still Strong in Business and ignoring Process automation at their peril

Management schools have taught us to avoid costs, control inputs, increase output to achieve increased productivity. These are often interpreted as “getting more done with less.” A mindset that could increase productivity, but mostly stagnation by over-stressing cost reduction.

 Manager Kent often seems to think that their role is to keep things as they are. The old mindset of “if it works do not change it” or “this is how we have always done it” is still very much alive. But, when natural progress becomes delayed, pain is inevitable. The old ways fast become the very risk that companies are attempting to avoid.

 When we hold back on change, something “out there” pushes the change to happen. Was COVID such a circumstance?

 Take working from a home office, for example. It was often tolerated but rarely encouraged in the past. Some more modern companies seem to flourish when embracing this type of concept. Typically, these are businesses with more modern mindsets and appears to have an inherent trust in their employees. They measure output delivered by their staff and not the amount of time spent in an office. 

 In longer-established firms, with large office buildings and work practices, things are often different. How many times have you not seen staff hanging around, with little to do, waiting for the boss to leave so that they can get out of there? All in the name of appearing productive.

 It has been interesting to witness businesses’ response to COVID-19. For the younger firms —younger in mindset, that is — it was mostly business as usual. For others, chaos reigned with most staff told to stay at home with nothing to do. In time, home office and remote communication emerged as a workable alternative.

 As the impact of COVID-19 is digested, businesses are strategizing on ways to avoid a similar hard knock. Finding ways of ensuring continued process performance, no matter the circumstances has become a priority. 

 Many, however, will remain with the unsustainable response of sticking a plaster on the cause of the last event. And when the next event comes around, companies will once again be caught ill-prepared.

 Businesses have once again learned that they do not control all the factors influencing the desired outcome. The E in X=(y1, y2, y3 … yn)+ E seems to be getting bigger and bigger (X=outcome, Y = Inputs, E = Error or Unpredictable). One explanation for this phenomenon is that dated methods no longer function in today’s accelerated, competitive environment with demanding customers or clients. When the process lag behind, the uncertainty factor (E) looms even larger.

 A typical first response to a crisis is an attempt to shut down, review and put in place fail-safes to better deal with a similar event the next time around.

 But what is holding us back, given our sophisticated strategizing methods, to proactively set contingencies for events not anticipated? 

 Why did Bill Gates attempt to alert the world of the possibility of a pandemic fall on deaf ears? 

Why do we not want to heed these warnings? Is it because managers are chasing an outcome promised to shareholders? Or is it that they a too comfortable with the status quo and do not want to “rock the boat”? Or perhaps it is the ostrich sticking its head in the sand syndrome, thinking that if ignored, it would go away? 

The Lifeblood of Business is its Processes, and they need to run non stop

Because a business’s main aim is to deliver a profit, the short-term impact post COVID, is that jobs will be lost due to lower demand in many industries. Many predict a new base for the global economy significantly lower than pre-COVID-19. Businesses will downsize but will want to get back to previous performance levels quickly. And knowing business, they would want to get back there without going back to previous cost levels.

 For the longer term, alternate ways of getting the job done economically will need to be found. Process excellence – effectiveness delivered efficiently – has never been more crucial.

 Getting back to previous process performance levels and, at the same time, manage the risk of downtime due to global events will require a considerable step towards process automation, incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning. Unfortunately, this will mean that less and less human involvement in the production of products and services.

 Both material handling and knowledge management process will come under closer scrutiny. Process automation has been around for a while and guaranteed to reach new levels of implementation.

 The ripening of virtual technology seen recently could not have been better timed. The demand for virtual travel and virtual meetings will explode as businesses embrace these communication methods.

 The retail world has been under pressure for a while, and now COVID has deepened its need to put in place, new business models. Online shopping has been on a steep growth path for years and is set to continue at a faster pace.

 Sophisticated logistics processes automation will be required to move never before experienced numbers of goods and parcels. 

 Most businesses have now learned that having staff work from home is doable. Doing so will result in a reduction in office space. Travel allowances are another area of cost reduction as employees will commute less. 

 And then there is the question of how this whole new world of social distancing is going to impact the world of travel and hospitality? 

 Air travel exists by maximizing the number of people on a flight. In commercial planes, people are packed in like sardines into a can. Not ideal for pandemic avoidance. 

 What processes will airlines introduce to manage social distancing? How many people will continue to travel as much with the introduction of complicated processes? How will public transport adapt so that individuals feel safe, not inconvenienced, and society as a whole protected?

 The airlines themselves are very vulnerable. They have large cost bases. How many airlines will be able to remain operational? With initial demand predicted to be lower, it is clear that they would have no choice but to increase prices, particularly on low competition routes.

 How will world politics and business alter to allow the human’s innate desire to move around, and do so safely?

Hand Free Processes automation

In this article, we have asked many questions to which the answers are not yet fully crystallized. This time, however, the impact is broad-scale and massive. 

 We can surmise with certainty that technology will be enlisted to assist with the assimilation of vast amounts of data to drive better and faster decision making, whether in politics, business, or day to day events.

 Processes automation are set to increase hands-free delivery of services and products.. Automation utilizing artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used more and more to create and deliver products and services.

 One might think that with all this automation happening, the future of humans holding jobs seems quite bleak. No doubt, the future will be different from the past. Knowledge will be the currency traded. 

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