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Workplace automation: To what extent?

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Automation is a rising trend across several sectors of the economy, close to the heels of digitisation. The pandemic has further accelerated its adoption, as industries implement social distancing and a safer work environment. While historically, automation has been associated with improvements in productivity and output; it is now playing a crucial role in creating sustainable and scalable changes across the entire process.

Now, modern enterprises whether small or large are incorporating intelligent systems and networks to address the evolving needs and demands of their stakeholders and business. Owing to the sophistication of technology, enterprises can now learn, operate and function automatically in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Although, the adoption of automation has brought significant transformation in the workplace across the world; it has also raised questions around the real value it creates for the entire industrial ecosystem.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoT), among others have proven to be the breakthrough technologies supporting the seamless adoption of automation across channels.

The idea to connect, control and monitor a series of gadgets, equipment, machines and robots through a cloud network is a present-day reality. This also functions as a comprehensive process that ensures smooth passage of information through the entire platform leading to a reduction in the margin of errors. The adoption of automation and strengthening of digital transformation across channels has increased the cooperation between IT and business processes as enterprises adopt robotic process automation or intelligent automation to best suit their business and organisational goals.

Across the manufacturing sector, automation brings cost efficiency, scalability, flexibility, improved monitoring, upgraded safety measures and reduced processing time, including increased productivity with the creation of an accurate product.

Presently, smart factories using AI, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), Big Data and Analytics, Cloud, Cybersecurity and Simulations are also turning autonomous with their production processes; thereby pushing the boundaries of Industry 4.0.

Similarly, the service industry is adopting automation across banking, healthcare, telecom, food and e-commerce to offer a better customer experience by implementing virtual assistants and bots. Apart from eliminating repetitive manual tasks, automation offers better organisation of information.

It also brings reduction in human errors and time spent on redundant/repetitive tasks, increase in accountability across each department and generate a better return on investment.

This allows employees to focus on tasks that require creativity and innovation, to find solutions that are out of the box and customized to the customer’s needs.

However, it must be acknowledged that automation cannot be achieved without human control and guidance. For an enterprise to begin its automation journey, it needs to train employees to work alongside a new automated process for a collaborative environment.

Man and machine complementing their activities will lead to new workload distribution. Further, the psychological acceptance of machines will lead to humans appreciating high-value work and the respite received from repetitive tasks. In addition, enterprises and organisations must address the automation anxiety or the fear of losing job to machines, to create a balance between machine efficiency and human flexibility.

Hence, it becomes imperative for organisations to begin the conversation and set a clear narrative about the workplace of the future. Setting the tone of the evolving technology landscape, it is important to discuss automation and its strategic role in business.

While changes are accelerating, it is the responsibility of the organisation to re-skill its workforce while nurturing agility and adaptability. It is time for organisations to prepare and act now, and shape the future of the workplace in India.