Automation in a factory is standard, automation in the warehouse is regularly found but what about automation in the office?
In construction of a factory, automation is built into the design. Machinery is assembled to perform the tasks required. With many items of equipment being programmable and controlled by software it can be a question of judgement as to which elements to call “Robots”. Similarly, newly constructed warehouses are being created that have high levels of automation with robots / machines moving the goods during entry and retrieval to the storage arrangements. The number of people involved in the operation of both factories and warehouse are small in comparison to the volume of goods being handled.
The office environment is totally people driven. The office is where the company functions of Finance, HR, Legal, Sales, Marketing, IT, etc. are delivered. Although offices vary in shape and size, is there automation?
For many years, the approach of one person to one desk has been the standard. In a modern office this inevitably means one PC or laptop as well. In fact, the existence of the PC / Laptop is the symbol of the automation that has taken place in the office which is hidden from normal view. The computer applications and server hardware infrastructure is hidden from view and is very likely to be accessed as part of the Cloud. Of course, somewhere that Cloud capability is being delivered by buildings full of computers which like other factories have very few people being involved in the operation.
There is another level of automation that can occur in the office. For the casual observer entering an office, the automation will be invisible. The introduction of “Robotic Process Automation” (RPA) changes the tasks performed by the people in the office. The “Robots” used by RPA, automate the repetitive tasks people undertake on computer applications. Like other automation, RPA delivers consistent processing of the activities it performs removing the human errors that inevitably occur when people perform a process. As RPA enables the “Robot to be taken out of the Human” activity, it enables people to utilise their human skills for conversation, judgement, etc.
Many offices are operated on a “Business Hours” basis, so there is a lot of unused capacity on the PCs and laptops used by office staff. When RPA is used to perform tasks that can be undertaken in an “Un-attended” mode without any interaction from people, this spare capacity has the potential to be used. RPA robots can be executing 24 hours a day, seven days a week if there is work available for them to do. By exploiting this capability, the repetitive tasks performed by people in a business process cannot only be performed by robots but can potentially be performed at a different time. Scenarios will differ widely, but completing work in a shorter timescale offers the potential to have much bigger impact through competitive advantage although of course automation of one aspect of a process can highlight or create a “Bottleneck” in a different part of the process.
With automation that occurs in an office environment being “Invisible”, it may not be so obvious to the business observer that it has taken place but to those involved the benefits can be significant. For the staff who previously performed the tasks automated with RPA, the “Mundane” / “Boring” activity is removed. This will reduce the risk of “Repetitive Strain Injury – RSI” and improves their mental health as they engage more in the activities that are performed. For business owners, the costs savings are real. For HR, the motivation and well being of staff is enhanced plus there is the new category of jobs to handle concerning RPA robot development and support.
For any manufacturing business, which has its own factory, warehouse and office, automation is available everywhere. Looking at the exhibitors for the Automation And Robotics show taking place on 25th June 2023 in Milton Keynes as an example. This is the heart of the UK SuperCluster for technology, engineering and science with many leading businesses in the Buckinghamshire, Bedforshire, Cambridgeshire, Herfordshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire area. Most of the exhibitors are focused on the use of physical robots in factories and warehouses, but Ether Solutions will be there promoting RPA for the office so the full spectrum of automation will be covered.
For more on RPA, please see RPA – Robotic Process Automation