What's next after automation

The transformation of automation, part 2

It's amazing how much we can achieve by automating business processes.

Whether it is about adding human resources, reducing risks or satisfying customers "if we approach automation correctly, we can make a big difference in every company. There are also reasons for this:

  • According to the most important industry analysts, automation is among the top 10 strategic technology trends.
  • The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) market is set to skyrocket from $ 7.7 billion to $ 12 billion by 2023, according to Forrester.
  • According to Gartner, 65% of companies that have adopted RPA will also be using artificial intelligence, including algorithms for machine learning and natural language processing, by 2022.

In other words: If you don't keep up with automation, it could mean the end of a company. To be at the top is to automate, as if the future of your business depends on it.

That brings us to the last part of our two-part blog on Neil Ward-Dutton's article in HYPERAUTOMATION, a collection of expert articles on low-code development and the future of business automation. With a mixture of expert knowledge and practical information, Ward-Dutton reminds us in his chapter that companies have been automating workflows and processes since the industrial revolution.

But instead of saying automation is bad, he offers us a playbook on how to scale automation without sacrificing the things that matter most to us. This includes the combination of the best human work, artificial intelligence and digital work to enable hyper-automation.

Ward-Dutton is Vice President, AI and Intelligent Process Automation European Practices at IDC and one of the most experienced and distinguished analysts in the European technology industry. His article is an essential guide to the history of business automation.

From about 2000 to 2015, says Ward-Dutton, large companies basically only had three technologies to automate work:

  1. Implementation of application packages.
  2. Develop custom applications using traditional software development tools.
  3. Using platforms that focused on automating workflow and business rules.

Historical context

Business automation goes back a lot further than you might think, says Ward-Dutton. In 1785, American inventor Oliver Evans built an automated, water-powered flour mill near Newport, Delaware. By using various automated mechanisms, Evans' invention made it possible to operate the mill with just one person instead of four.

The military actions of World War II and NASA's space program in the 1960s and 1970s, Ward-Dutton said, sparked the next great wave of innovation in automation. The first computers were used in business administration, manufacturing processes, and scientific environments.

In the 1960s and 1970s, computers were used in the business world primarily to automate the work of clerks in accounting, payroll, and other relatively simple administrative functions.

This was followed by the introduction of digital computers, time-sharing systems, mainframe systems, local area networking technology (LAN), PCs and other technologies. But companies continued to focus on automating certain administrative procedures and processes. It was only with the advent of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) as a business discipline in the late 1980s that IT systems were built and operated to integrate automated business functions on a large scale. This included practically everything: from HR to finance and accounting to production planning and other areas.

The advent of Rapid Application Development (RAD) in the early 1990s, Ward-Dutton said, sparked a wave of inventions in network technologies, servers, and PC platforms that helped make computers available to a wider range of businesses .

But many of the low-code "first wave" application development tools, user interfaces, business logic, and so on were forgotten in the early 2000s, says Ward-Dutton. Today the pendulum has swung back and it's hard to miss how low-code tools have permeated the business automation landscape.

That is, iron

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are on the cusp of a great change in how we work and do business. Organizations today have more automation options than ever before. Understanding these options, how they are related, and how best to connect and orchestrate them across the enterprise, however, is critical to properly addressing automation.

The real problem, which is unspoken in the room, is the massive upheaval in the workforce. But automation is also a superpower that complements human labor, multiplies employee productivity, and creates new, more highly skilled, and better paid jobs for people. But that is not to say that there will be no fundamental changes.

"It's probably a bit of both," said Ward-Dutton. "And I think corporate culture will determine how that works out."

"I've worked with some (companies) whose approach to intelligent automation doesn't follow the motto: 'How do we get rid of human workers?' Rather, they think of their employees and ask how the annoying monotonous aspects of their work can be automated so that they become more productive. "

Scalable tools and platforms

To paraphrase Ward-Dutton, to get the most out of automation, you need to set up your business to scale your initial automation success.

In the 1990s, Ward-Dutton said, companies and vendors developed and deployed tens of thousands of relatively simple, team-oriented business software applications.

"Many of the first low-code tools for application development, user interfaces, business logic and so on were forgotten in the early 2000s. But the demand has clearly increased as web-based application development was dominated by technical developers working with relatively simple Tools worked, "says Ward-Dutton.

It cannot be denied that low-code tools have permeated the business automation landscape. As Ward-Dutton says, as you explore ways to use these new automation tools and techniques, there is one more thing to consider: How should you set up your business so that early successes can truly scale?

"As low-code approaches become increasingly dominant and cloud-based subscription services become increasingly popular, it quickly becomes a challenge to apply the right technology to the right problems in the right way," says Ward-Dutton.

It's about choosing technology tools and platforms that are scalable "both in terms of supporting applications that can support hundreds or thousands of users, and in terms of high processing volumes, even in the largest enterprise. But here comes that crucial question: how do you strike a balance between the freedom and flexibility of automation on the one hand and maintaining control and governance on the other?

Ward-Dutton's article in HYPERAUTOMATION is essential reading to unlock this secret.

(PS: Read the first part of this two-part post here. Download your free copy of HYPERAUTOMATIONdown here).