Unleashing the Full Power of Automation
Published on : Saturday 02-10-2021
There are massive opportunities to optimise industry at the enterprise and factory levels through effective orchestration of automation and human activities, says Titli Chatterjee.
Flippy, as the robot is known, works almost 23 hours a day manning the fry station at White Castle No. 42 in Merrillville, Indiana. Overwhelmed with Flippy’s performance the chain plans to roll out Flippy 2.0 in collaboration with its maker Miso Robotics. Automation has provided relief during the Covid-19 pandemic helping them to improve efficiencies, cut costs and save time from performing repetitive tasks. According to the US Labour Department, there were more than 1.3 million unfilled job openings at restaurants and hotels as of the end of May 2021. To survive the labour crunch, one of the underlying tasks at this juncture would be automating the customer-facing jobs and streamline online ordering. However, the industry should also try to tackle a knottier issue of automating the production of food itself. The combinatorial problems of scarce labour, minimal margins driven by unprecedented increase in demand for takeout and delivery are compelling restaurateurs to seek advanced technological solutions for a desired transformation. Alongside, there is a trend in automating repetitive tasks to reduce human errors and address the widening skills gap by allotting more meaningful tasks to the workforce. Perhaps, companies need to monitor their own business processes to identify and optimise processes suitable for transformation.
The emerging of new digital tools and frontier technologies support organisations to improve their business processes by increasing efficiency and agility. However, most of the organisations while automating operations or implementing hyper-automation face a dilemma of where to begin with, the area of action or identifying processes most suitable for automation. It is readily known that automation saves time, boosts productivity and increases accuracy. But the primary question that arises is ‘What do you automate’? Aligned to major project initiatives, it is important to start with quick wins, capacity built, and the lessons learnt in the process. A pre-defined automation approach includes:
a. Breaking the end-to-end process into tasks
b. Determining and bifurcating the tasks best for humans and the digital system
c. Documenting the process, and
d. Leveraging the value of human and digital systems to get the jobs done faster.
With the industry continuously evolving at an increasing pace fuelled by the need for transformation, reducing errors and costs and addressing changing market dynamics, advancements in intelligent automation (IA) including robotic process automation (RPA) will likely have profound impact on enterprises and businesses. Introducing IA tools into an organisation’s capability will disrupt the up and running business functions unlike other technology adoption. These include:
a. New customer interfaces from use of chatbots and other tools
b. New work routines
c. Changing employee roles due to process streamlining and automation, and
d. New software tools that need to be installed into the infrastructure.
While evaluating business processes can be difficult, these changes may be significant and difficult to adopt by the workforce. It is thus crucial to take account of whether key managerial utilities are in place to support timely adoption and realisation of the value offered by intelligent automation capabilities. Let’s have a closer look on some of the implications while implementing automation:
1. RPA with BPMS – When implementing robotic process automation (RPA) in convergence with other technologies like business process management systems (BPMS), RPA is more suitable for tasks that are executed frequently and are based on rules.
2. Need of a project coordinator – Automation implementation projects not only need the involvement of consultants or experts, but also a project coordinator. Based on Six Sigma philosophy the automation of a process starts after the process is standardised and stabilised.
3. Design a better way – Throughout the journey of figuring the right fit and identifying the focus area, experts should also prioritise on improvisation. Can we reduce manual inputs? Can we skip or eliminate unnecessary steps? Streamline the entire process by combining and simplifying several other steps. This would also include reassigning resources and exploring ways to replicate their utility within a new, improved process.
Nevertheless, the outsourcing companies believe that a small company having a labour-intense routine is more suitable to embrace automation or RPA than a large multi-national company having few automatable tasks. Unstructured implementations of new processes and tools rarely achieve the expected results in terms of schedules, budgets or customer needs. Consequently, organisations should assess their readiness and prepare for intelligent automation (IA) capability so that they are ready to successfully adopt the changed delivery processes. Assessing the internal readiness would help in identifying gaps that could possibly derail process or workflow improvements.
Many organisations have confused the digital process automation system. It is necessary to understand the implications and convergence of advanced technologies with automation or two technologies to work well together. Few of the best practices like 1) Setting clear business process goals; 2) Embracing agile and not waterfall methodology; 3) Focusing on data and having a strong data model at place; 4) Getting a clear understanding of automation, significance of robotic process automation (RPA) and the immediate area of action; and 5) Real-time orchestration as the key in driving productivity, are what teams should keep in mind whether the focus is on smaller projects or on large-scale, end-to-end transformation.
As organisations start down paths toward deploying automation and eliminating bad steps from its processes, it’s always helpful to learn from other companies that have already started their journeys. We have massive opportunities to optimise our industry both at the enterprise and the factory level through effective orchestration of automation and human activities. While remembering how we got that roll of tape, let's consider the irreplaceable nature of human problem-solving, abstract reasoning, creativity and sync that with precision and real-time data collection that is unique to robotic solutions. Perhaps, we would be able to unleash the full power of automation.
Titli Chatterjee has moved into a new role and organisation from NASSCOM and has joined ISG (Information Services Group – https://isg-one.com/) in Research and Smart Manufacturing Practice. She is closely working with the industry thought leaders, advisors, consultants and other stakeholders in formulating research practices for smart manufacturing, also focusing on other industry challenges/trends and highlighting how technology can be a game changer at the industrial front.