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Opinion

It's true we need more robots but that’s just the first step

  • David Biden
  • Sep 24, 2019

It was heartening to read the results of research undertaken by the UK government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), covered in the Telegraph amongst others, showing that we are in real need of a new wave of investment in robotics and automation. 

The report was a welcome change from the narrative that robots will steal our jobs and leave a generation of workers without employment. As Tim Wallace noted in the Telegraph:

“Contrary to fears that automation will push people out of work, the new technology will in fact secure jobs and create new roles by making the country more competitive on the global market [...] At the same time workers will be better paid and can enjoy safer, cleaner and more stimulating work as robots perform the dangerous, dirty, repetitive and lower-value tasks.”

It’s great to see some of the founding principles of human+ receive the endorsement of a government department in this way - how the adoption of automation can go hand in hand with increased job satisfaction for human employees. 

However, it would be a mistake for companies to think that they can solve all the challenges facing the 21st century workforce by investing in process automation without first fully understanding its purpose, testing its efficiency and effectiveness, and embracing its benefits.  Implementing automation should never be underestimated. 

Just like it is important to understand what job each employee is hired to do, it’s important to have clarity regarding the role of each automation process you implement. If you approach each RPA project like a recruitment process, first identifying a need, then selecting a candidate/solution, and assigning a manager to oversee the value creation, you're more likely to reap the ongoing benefits of the technology and business buy-in.

If I could give three key pieces of advice to anyone spurred into automation action by the recent news from BEIS, it would be these:

  • Upskill your employees: Contrary to the many scaremongering headlines, implementing automation doesn’t need to lead to employee redundancies. By training your employees to work with the RPA you are bringing to your business, you can build a highly skilled workforce with a deep understanding of your business, the reasons for adopting automation, and how that technology works alongside the human workforce. 

  • Don’t treat automation as a one-off adoption: Profitable automation projects require a long term strategy and roadmap in order to achieve success. Without a clear plan for progression, and a shared understanding of the projects’ aims, impacts and achievements amongst shareholders, organisations cannot make the most of RPA and project momentum can be lost.

  • Pick your processes to automate carefully: It’s important not to rush in and adopt all of the latest automation technology without fully understanding the impact of your decision. By introducing automation gradually and running a Proof of Value (PoV), you can make the most of the opportunity to support employee engagement and improve your business processes. Taking a calculated approach enables businesses to identify which processes will benefit most from being automated. Not all processes are ripe for automation, so going through the PoV will help organisations understand where and how it works best. For guidance on picking your processes, read our blog How to choose the right processes to automate

The report from BEIS concluded with a call to action which we’d be delighted to get behind at human+.

“The lack of focus on automation, beyond AI, in the Government’s Industrial Strategy is a missed opportunity. Its absence strengthens the case for a UK Robot Strategy, which supports British innovation as well as encouraging automation adoption. We recommend that a UK Robot Strategy includes actions that support UK automation businesses to grow and remain in the UK.”

 We’ll leave aside the fact that this should probably be called the UK’s Automation strategy. What’s certain is that how the government defines that strategy, should it ever come to light, will be another major stepping stone for the automation industry.

David Biden

David has trained and mentored many individuals and believes the best leaders are great teachers.