So, you’ve heard a few things about processes and workflows getting automated here and there, and perhaps you’re wondering what it is, and why it’s receiving so much traction, or why does it even matter? You’re not alone. Many developers, who don’t particularly understand what automation is, resist adopting it as part of their development process, often not realizing that their IDE software incorporates a substantial amount of automation in it already. It’s common for some people to believe that the more advanced automation gets, the more it will have a negative impact on their work. This view is reinforced by spurious statistics in salacious click-bait headlines predicting a woeful number of jobs to be lost to automation in the coming years. But that doom-chiming is not all specious, particularly for the greater industrial market; in a recent report, the esteemed McKinsey Global Institute predicted that automation would replace over 45 million jobs in the US alone by 2030. The fear of robot-driven mass unemployment is clearly something which does have at least some grounding in the truth.
However, a closer look at such studies predicting job loss to automation, and you’d discover less reason to be alarmed. To get started, the automation of processes and workflows is different to replacing humans with “robots”. Currently, we don’t even have the kind of robots that can entirely replace humans, and experts don’t expect them any time soon. So, what really is automation?
What is Automation?
Automation refers to the use of computerized equipment to minimize human input/errors on tedious and or repetitive tasks. For most people, automation means manufacturing automation, which may involve pieces of equipment like PLCs, sensors, motors, amongst others, depending on the processes to be automated. However, other classes may include home automation, Business Process Automation (BPA), IT automation, etc. Any process that can run without human cognition can become automated. This way, you can save time and money on industrial processes. And, contrary to popular beliefs, the use of automation creates numerous high-end careers, for example, maintenance workers, engineers, and software developers.
To help you better understand the workings of automation, let’s break down a popular everyday use of automation: the pull-in and park automatic car wash. Once you get to the car wash, you select your wash on the monitor. Your input will then trigger a certain program in the controller. Next, you proceed into the car wash, the wash cycle begins, and a sensor prompts you to bring your car to a halt. The wash continues through the wash cycle, with sensors detecting the position of your car and turning off and on, pumps as needed, to make sure water and chemicals are not wasted. In this case, the car wash saves time and resources (water and chemicals) by controlling when the wash cycle begins and ends for you to advance to the next step. Once the whole process ends, you will be prompted to exit the wash.
Essentially, the only human effort in the process described above is the wash selection. All forms of automation work in pretty much the same manner. The automated process starts with some form of input. This could be human input or a sensor automatically detecting inputs to activate the predefined outcome. But, why is all this important to us?
Why Does Automation Matter?
Automation matters because of how much it impacts our daily lives as well as how businesses operate today. While the Covid-19 pandemic is credited with accelerating automation trends, this technology was slowly becoming dominant way before the pandemic. Today, automation plays an important role in helping businesses adapt rapidly to changing market conditions, and customer needs to become more agile and remain competitive in any market. The benefits of automation are enormous, especially at the organizational level:
- Organizations leverage automation to streamline business processes to yield more stable and reliable results.
- It is helpful in understanding changing customer needs, preferences, and behavior.
- Automation boosts overall productivity by taking over tedious, repetitive tasks and allowing highly trained staff to focus on core business tasks.
- Most organizations incorporate automation to increase efficiency by minimizing the risks of human error on certain tasks.