5 things about Automation

We are hearing more and more about automation everywhere we turn.

1. Automation is the new black

It seems like everything from Agriculture, Cooking, Medicine to Shopping is automated. Amazon is launching the first shop that operates with a “walk in and walk out” principle, where your Amazon cart gets updated based on what you pick up. This means that the shop is now run by machines and focuses on increasing sold items per day with lower costs per sold item. You could argue it then increases productivity and lowers costs by for example eliminating (or at least lowering) labor cost. The main focus is probably not to develop a chain of stores where people do not longer meet and great cashiers, but get the lower costs per output benefit that is one of the good things that Automation can offer.

2. Automation is designed to eliminate boring tasks

Automation is designed to eliminate tasks that we find boring and don’t want to do, tasks that are routine and “no value adding”. Examples : approve invoices, code an account statement, do postings on invoices, do purchasing requisitions, call the bank and ask them to send the latest Bank statement, match incoming invoice to PO, de-clutter your hard drive, post updates on social media and so on. All of these tasks would require multiple steps for any human to do them manually and so automation saves us time.

The Finance functions in companies, are looking at a constant decrease in the amount of free hands available to perform and error check manual processes. The cultural differences are big however. Many of my clients with HQ: s in the US for example, tell me that processes and solutions like Electronic Invoicing and AP automation are still very new there. You “still have” the workforce around to walk around the office and ask for a “approved” stamp on an invoice. People are still manually typing in the details and posting codes of invoices into Financial Software. Scandinavia has a slightly higher automation rate when it comes to Financing functions but we even see these kind of scenarios here. However, things are changing fast globally and the Finance functions find themselves having to do more and work across multiple solutions and ERPs with less free hands. This leads to errors and frustration since the Finance department should be involved in leading the company forward, now chasing approvers down the hall with paper invoices to approve.

3. Automation saves time, in the long run

Automation gives you the opportunity to do “more with less”. Instead of manually handling the bulk of the processes and tasks within the Finance functions, the professionals can focus on manually handling the exceptions instead. This is the power and the good parts of automation. Partly because it’s not interesting of fulfilling work to perform the same manual tasks day in and out like a robot, partly because companies have a pressure to maximize profit and seek to minimize costs and utilize resources efficiently.

4. The risks of automation

Automation should always be thought trough. Automating tasks and processes just for the sake of automating is not the thing we should chase. Looking at the very big picture of automation it could lead to a form of dependency. What happens if we change a process? If the leaders that bought in a robot leave and retire and the new ones have no idea what we automated in the first place?

Also the question comes to mind, what happens after we automate a process? How do we make sure that we are using the “best process and automation steps” at the time? Do we have a quality insurance process in place to do constant development work and improve processes? Are we compliant? Are we automating a process that is outdated in the first place? What is the process in an error situation? One customer once told us, “A solution is only as good, as it is, when something goes wrong”. How easy is it to fix an error? Who is responsible for the process? All of these questions need to have clear answers.

5. Its not how you do it, its who you do it with

To make sure automation is evolving and optimizing together with the development of the macro economy, local demands, industry demands as well as the company, it’s important to work closely with a service provider who specialized in what they do. You will want to work with someone who is developing and forming and researching the processes, the tools and the solutions.

The requirement to always be providing the best service is leading to a new way of working within the IT industry, from a “buy a license, do a big project, install and meet up for renewal” kind of relationship. New requirements to operations come at a rapid phase, the old way of “updating” is not enough anymore. We are now working as partners with constant dialogue as almost all companies have moved into the kind of relationship / partnership SaaS is offering.

I personally think that the future of automation and robotics is very interesting, by eliminating unnecessary manual work we can free up resources and time to innovate. The most important thing about automation is to treat it as an opportunity, not a risk.