This guide has been created in order to direct you through the confusing waters towards automating aspects of your business. By the end of this guide, you should be able to utilise automated robots which can work 24/7 to improve the efficiency of your business. This will allow your staff to engage in more value creating tasks that make them feel empowered.
This guide is for the following:
Automation is an interesting topic in the world of business. It is a bit like Marmite. You either love it, or think it is the worst thing ever created. The reality couldn’t be further than that. Unlike Marmite, you can certainly learn to love Automation.
Now that we’ve established I don’t like Marmite, let’s get back on topic.
In today’s era of the workplace, people are performing better and better. Expectations of employees couldn’t be any higher. With higher expectations comes bigger projects, more urgent deadlines, and with that comes higher levels of stress and an increased likelihood of your staff becoming burnt out. When staff become burnt out, their productivity plummets, they’re more likely to make mistakes, and inherently this comes with a potential financial cost for the business. Overall, these high expectations create a knock-on effect which reverberates throughout the entire business.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
In the average corporate workplace, there are plenty of what we plainly like to call “boring and monotonous tasks”. Essentially, these are generally the type of tasks which are repetitive and have very little deviation. This could be submitting expenses, or entering details into an excel sheet. You know, the type of stuff that’s unfortunately essential for the job to be done, but you’d rather not have to do?
The reality is that automation can eliminate the human interaction on these boring tasks. This, in turn, reduces the risk of burn out and in fact can increase workplace morale. How? Well, those staff members who hate the repetitive tasks no longer have to do them. It may only be 10% or 20% of their role, but it frees up their time to focus on more important aspects of their role. They may be able to put more time into value producing tasks, or they could get involved in other aspects of the business. Providing staff with this freedom will lead to huge boosts to productivity.
Many workplaces are recognising the power of automation, and slowly but surely it is becoming more common to utilise it in a business. On the face of it, it seems like a bit of a no brainer, right? Yet many businesses are still concerned about implementing it. Wouldn’t you want to free up hours of your work week to spend on more important tasks?
It seems increasingly likely that hybrid working at the very least is here to stay. It certainly depends which industry you work in, with some industries being more accepting than others.
The pandemic forced many business to begin working from home for prolonged periods of time. Certain industries have latched onto automation in order to maintain productivity and make sure the hybrid working environment is as smooth as possible for companies and employees.
We saw automation make its stamp on the hybrid working environment during 2021. But, as we come out of the pandemic (hopefully…) and we really see whether businesses are committed to remote work and hybrid work, we will see automation really shine.
It is a common misconception when it comes to automation. In short, automation is a tool, not a robot here to replace your job. It doesn’t quite work like in the films where robots take over the world. The reality is that humans still need to nurture and guide automation in the right direction. The benefit of it all is that it in fact makes our jobs better, rather than taking them away from us.
Unfortunately there are still employees and managers out there which believe that robots could take over their jobs completely. Until we get over that speed bump, automation won’t be fully adopted. It is a difficult one, as even if management are fully supportive of automation, they also don’t want to have a concerned workforce who may not fully understand the benefits.
The trick to this trend is that we believe there will be an increase of
AI has been used as a bit of a buzz word in recent years. The reality is that the vast majority of people will have no access to “real” Artificial Intelligence for quite a while. However, sub-aspects of Artificial Intelligence such as Machine Learning will become much more prominent alongside automation.
We will system systems in place which will be able to learn and use human thought patterns to make decisions. For example, we may see processes which can decipher what type of expense something in based on the system learning the typical features of certain expense claims.
Some might refer to this as ‘Hyper Automation’. We suspect that this will only be beneficial for businesses who are fully behind automation and willing to really invest in it. However, this year we will get closer to it being more widely available to the masses.
Automation is somewhat of an unknown topic in the grand scheme of things. It is a bit of an oddball where everyone knows it exists, but a minority truly understand how it works and its capabilities.
We are now going to cover a lot of the myths and misconceptions relating to the world of automation.
This will cover facts and fiction, and try to dissect the logical reasons why some of these fictitious beliefs have been able to grow.
This is probably the most common misconception relating to automation and one that grinds our gears. Part of the reason we initially began putting this guide together is because of the common misconceptions about automation.
Now, there are many different facets when it comes to this element of fiction. We could go down a long rabbit hole on the exact reason that people genuinely believe it, and cover several psychology topics. However, we believe that this is primarily due to a lack of understanding and incorrect perspective.
Let’s start with perspective…
How you perceive automation as a ‘thing’ is likely going to be the largest determining factor as to whether or not you would use it. If you perceive it as dangerous versus perceiving it as a tool. Ultimately, we can wipe away all of the excess fluff and buzz-words, and automation is exactly that. A tool. Something which should benefit your work, and not take it away from you.
Why do people view it as dangerous, and something that could steal their job? Well, due to a lack of understanding and education on the topic. Naturally, not understanding something is going to create suspicion and doubt, that’s a natural human reaction.
Automation’s impact on the world of work will depend entirely on what your job is exactly. It may eliminate the need for some roles. But, when you pan out to the bigger picture, it is most likely to evolve roles. It won’t cause mass unemployment. It will improve some roles, and create others.
So, in summary, if you are a manager who has a team that is fearful of automation. Our response would be that education on the topic is the best remedy. Showing a team that their roles will be enriched by working alongside automation, as opposed to being replaced by automation. If you’re an employee experiencing automation, then there’s no need to be concerned. Our advice would always be to fully understand how it works, and how you can utilize it to benefit yourself!
If you’d like to read more on this topic, we wrote an article entitled “Is Automation the Enemy? You May be Surprised!”
There is a general belief that automation is for large companies due to how expensive it is. Small businesses and small budgets need not apply!
…Oh how wrong you are!
The reality of automation is that as it grows, it becomes far more accessible. Sure, 10 years ago you would have needed to hire a team of coders to create something from scratch for your business. However, the reality now is that there are many applications that can be utilized by team members with little to no automation experience within a short space of time.
Another idea to look at is what are your main expenses currently? Many smaller businesses will find that a lot of the services they pay for could be replaced by automation, therefore saving them more money than automation would cost.
Automation software is more accessible than ever! Sometimes it can also be a stumbling block of knowing exactly what you could/should automate, and therefore what expenses can be avoided through automation. If this is the case for you, check out our article on some examples of what you can automate. It might spark some ideas for your business!
Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Things change, and therefore automation packages may need to change with it.
To give an example, we created an automated “scrape bot” which would access information on a selection of web pages for a financial company. These pages would occasionally change over time, and therefore we had to make little adjustments for them now and then. However, this would have been the reality of the individual who used to manually check that data regularly too. The difference this time is that the data was now checked daily, instead of weekly, which significantly reduced their risk. Read about that project here.
There is a small element of truth when it comes to this myth though. It certainly should be filed under the category of “it depends”.
A general rule of thumb is, the more simplistic and rigid an automation process is, the more likely you will be able to just forget about it and let it do its job. Automation will, in theory, continue to run on command as planned until the day you tell it to stop.
However, in saying that, we have a belief that all processes should always be assessed from time to time. Some processes can become redundant. Some processes could be improved with new technology. Or, arguably most importantly, some processes may no longer be viable due to legal or regulatory changes.
We believe automation is magic! But it isn’t a genie in a bottle, and it isn’t perfect. Fundamentally, a business with significant operational and managerial problems is unlikely to be cured by automation. Sure, automation of tasks will improve the operational inefficiencies in areas. However, if there is just a fundamentally poor operational structure in place, there is only so much that automation can do.
A broken process is a broken process, whether you automate it or not.
A rule of thumb is that automation can be applied to almost any business process. However, it does have limitations. For example, if you set up automation over a faulty or broken process, it will complete that faulty process. It isn’t a human, it doesn’t know any better. You know the saying “Do as I say, not as I do”? Well, automation is the dream here in that it will do exactly what you tell it to do.
Automation excels when you give it repetitive simple tasks. The sort of tasks you hate doing every day, but have to be done. Automation doesn’t think, contemplate, make suggestions or come up with ideas. While Artificial Intelligence as an area is growing, and one day it will run hand in hand with automation, it is not quite at a stage where the masses can use it reliably. Machine Learning is a subset of Artificial Intelligence that is more likely to be usable by the mass market in the coming years
Seeing as we’re on the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI)…
Many people believe automation, AI, machine learning, etc are the same thing. This goes back to our earlier point on a lack of understanding leading to misconceptions on automation. Business Process Automation (BPA) or Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is not the same thing as Artificial Intelligence. End of story, case closed.
Do you want more detail? Oh, okay then.
The key differentiator between AI and Automation is that AI is “intelligent”. Not that automation isn’t a clever piece of kit, but you can think of AI as having a brain. AI can make decisions, it learns from mistakes, and learns from its overall experience. Conversely, automation does not learn from its mistakes.
Automation is like the ultimate soldier in the army, and you are the drill sergeant. The ‘army robot’ will do exactly what you tell it to do, to a fault. If you tell it to do something wrong, it will do it. It cannot determine what is right or wrong. It just knows the way to do something is what you have told it to do.
AI on the other hand is a bit like an angsty teenager. Just a really damn clever one. A teenage prodigy if you will. You will ask it to do something, and it will then learn that what you’re asking it to do is stupid, and they can do it a better way, and answer back. AI will come up with solutions and draw conclusions for you. It can deviate from the path it was told to follow in the search for a better path.
On the face of it, it may seem as though AI is better? It is apples and oranges. AI is FAR more complex and isn’t truly a part of the mass market yet. While automation is fully accessible to the masses. AI requires intense learning and evolution. It isn’t a “flick the switch” solution. It requires far more hand-holding and time. While, in theory, automation is ready to go from Day-1 once the initial setup has been complete.
Once you have gone through this chapter, you should be able to answer any lingering questions you may have on the topic. We will discuss the process of automation within a business, as well as a glossary of fancy terminology often used within the automation industry. We’re big believers in cutting out the buzzwords and just explaining things exactly as they are.
An unwillingness to delve into automation is generally due to a lack of understanding and poor education online about the topic of automation. Sometimes websites can make it seem a little intimidating to approach by using overly complex terminologies. The goal here is to simplify automation down so that you know exactly what it is, how it works, and how you can implement it into your business. So, without further ado, let’s address some of the most commonly asked questions on automation briefly. I will then go into more depth in a later chapter where required on most of these topics.
What is Automation?
Automation is a very general blanket term used for technology that reduces or eliminates the requirement for human input to complete a process. This covers a variety of sub-areas such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Business Process Automation (BPA), IT Automation, Home Automation, etc.
If you are reading this, you are most likely interested in RPA/BPA (which are essentially the same thing). We will stick with the term RPA for simplicity going forward.
RPA is essentially a tool that simplifies processes and eliminates the constraints that a human has when completing a process. For example, you couldn’t possibly expect an employee to run a process at 11 pm every night. However, an RPA setup can run 24/7, first thing in the morning, or last thing at night. It does exactly as it is told. However, as we’ve discussed previously, this should never be viewed as a tool to replace human employment, but to work alongside it to multiply the value return from staff.
RPA emulates human action. Generally speaking, anything a human can do, an RPA setup can perform more accurately, quicker, and with less stress than an equivalent human employee.
Why Should I Automate/What is Suitable for Automation?
It is important to tap into the areas of your business which are most suitable for automation. It can be difficult to pinpoint these initially. Especially when first entering the industry of automation, as you get a sense of wanting to automate absolutely everything. The reality is that some processes are better off not being automated, or simply just don’t suit an automated process.
Some relevant features of a process that would take well to automation are:
What Framework should I use?
There are so many frameworks and tools which can be used, and we will go into much more detail later on. But this predominantly comes down to whether you wish to use “coding” or “no-code” solutions. In short, a no-code solution, in theory, means that you will never have to learn to write a line of code at all in order to complete your automated processes. Conversely, there is a fully-coded version (for example: using Python) which will require someone with a background in coding to write and manage.
There is also something in the middle where you can use a no-code platform, but there are the occasional pieces of code throughout the process in order to really hone in on your specific requirements.
Is there a best option? Yes and no. It depends on your specific requirements, how complex they are, and how unique they are. If you need to do something ultra-simple like an automated email based on datasets – then that’s likely to be simple and can be completed with a no-code option. Conversely, if it is an incredibly complex task completely unique to your company, then it might be better to look for a custom-coded solution.
How Can I Calculate the ROI of Automation/Measure Success?
There are two points to be made here. Firstly, you should always constantly measure the effectiveness of your automated processes. It is important to know when an automated process is effective or ineffective, and where one could be improved. We always recommend creating a KPI dashboard for this.
Secondly, it is important to assess and analyze a process, and an automated solution before it is pushed into production. It is important to not automate for the sake of automation, and really assess whether a process should be automated, or whether the automation is actually going to bring value. Sometimes efficiency comes down to just improving a process before you even consider an automated option.
Does Automation Work in Every Industry?
For the most part, yes. You would struggle to find an industry that does not benefit from automation in any capacity. Naturally, some industries benefit from automation more than others though. Anything with a high level of repetitive manual admin tasks usually gains from it the most. Think finance, HR, insurance, data management etc.
What are Automation’s Biggest Difficulties?
Here are some of the main difficulties that automation faces in terms of being adopted by the masses:
1) It is difficult to get the whole company on board. Some departments might think it is a great idea, while others might not like change. Automation makes the biggest impact when it can be rolled out throughout a whole company. For example, if you were a manufacturing company, you could like your orders to the financing team, which then links back to the warehousing team (over simplified example). The point is that if one department is against implementation, then you will struggle to obtain those company-wide efficiencies.
2) Forced Automation: It is so easy to just think automation is the answer. In reality, it might not be, and it may be best to just fix a broken process before you even consider automation. People implementing automation into a bad process are just creating an automated bad process and not a solution.
3) Infrastructure and Integration Issues: Depending on your industry, it could be that your systems are just dated, which might mean that implementing automation into your processes becomes difficult. This is quite common in the banking industry who still sit on old legacy platforms which they haven’t been able to transfer to a more modern platform.
Can Automation Scale with Business Growth?
Yes, 100% Automation is incredibly flexible. Often if a business is seeing significant growth, and seeing significant benefits from automation, they will actually bring on an internal team focusing entirely on automating processes within the growing business.
How do I Start Automation?
Ah, the all-important question! We will cover this in more detail later. But the start has already begun! By coming to this page you have clearly shown an interest in learning more about automation and how it can benefit you and your business. Therefore, you have already started the journey in which you will be able to automate a process. By the end of this guide, our aim is that you will have no doubt in your mind as to what your plan of action is in terms of implementing automation for your business.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many popular niches, as automation becomes more popular, so do the sheer number of complicated buzzwords. These buzzwords generally can confuse or distract from what is actually going on. So, let’s break down a lot of the common verbiage used within the automation industry, and try and explain what these buzzwords really mean.
Automation is a pretty large topic, and therefore actually knowing exactly what it is and how it works can be overwhelming for many people just entering the industry (or thinking of potentially using it as a tool). We have already covered some of the jargon and buzz words used surrounding automation. This should help you when speaking to providers, and looking at options out there in terms of too availability.
In this chapter, we will dive a little deeper into the core details of automation, and explain some of its fundamental features. This in turn should allow you to understand how automation could really benefit you, and why it is such a massively growing area of business.
Automation is the process of using technological tools and systems to perform tasks without human intervention. Automation can streamline many different kinds of tasks, from simple repetitive actions to complex processes that would be difficult or impossible for humans to do manually.
Automation can offer significant benefits to businesses, including:
Almost any task can be automated, but some are more suited to automation than others. Common examples of tasks that are often automated include: