There was a time when the term “automation” was synonymous with advanced manufacturing plants full of robotics. While replacing human labor with machine labor is a prime example of workplace automation, it’s far from the only example. Automation is present in modern businesses of all sizes – including subtle features in common software applications, and more obvious implementations like self-driving vehicles or autonomous robots. There is much debate about where workplace automation will lead the economy, but observers tend to agree that the trend is gaining momentum. Every business process is on the table for automation, especially as technology becomes more sophisticated.
What is Workplace Automation?
Here’s a common misconception that automation involves towering robotics, but it can be as simple as a set of tools housed within common business software programs. At its core, automation is about implementing a system to complete repetitive and easily replicated tasks without the need for human labor. “Automation takes a lot of forms,” said Fred Townes, chief product officer at READY Education. “For small businesses, the most important thing is [repetition]. When you find something you do more than once that adds value … you want to look into automation.”
Machine Learning as the Driver for Automation
Machine learning and artificial intelligence enable new forms of “smart” automation. As the software learns, the more adaptable it becomes. These technologies open the door for the automation of higher-order tasks in addition to the basic, repetitive tasks. “I think there’s a lot of focus at the moment on these tasks that humans don’t want to do,” Sharma said. “But what’s going to happen in the future is … automation will not just be about automating those tasks humans are doing today, but it will be about realizing potential opportunities.”
Example of Common Workplace Automation
1. Email marketing
Many small business owners already use at least one form of automation: email marketing. Companies like Zoho and Constant Contact offer software that allows users to tailor the parameters of their email marketing campaign to their liking and then set it to run automatically.
2. Customer service
Customer service departments are also getting an automation makeover with the introduction of tools like chatbots and automated text message marketing solutions.
3. Human resources
Given the predictable and repetitive nature of HR duties – like payroll and timesheets – digitization can transform the efficiency of a department.
Economic insecurity displaced workers feel is very real, but automation is not the enemy. Instead, Wallace hopes to educate people about leveraging this powerful technology to create their own incomes – essentially establishing a society of entrepreneurs and small companies. “If we can establish a way to make sure we all have enough food, clothing, and shelter to survive … and allow people to repurpose their gifts, unique abilities, and enable them to proliferate that and sell it as a good or a service, then we’re adding income,” Wallace said. “We can create an opportunity to generate income for next to nothing, so why not teach people to leverage the tech that disrupted the marketplace in the first place to embrace it and use it for something more in line with who they are, as an expression of their unique abilities?”