In this era of COVID-19 pandemic, as part of safety measures in a workplace or Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), avoiding touching items/devices is very crucial in preventing the transmission of the dreaded virus. This goes without saying the importance of IT automation in a workplace.
IT automation involves implementing software applications that would perform repeatable instructions or operational activities, thereby limiting human interaction with computer systems. More so, the importance of technological innovation in a workplace will continue to be on an upward trajectory because humans are in the quest of finding a better and easier way of doing things.
Without a doubt, looking back at technological innovation and advancement, we can boldly state that we have come a long way in the area of software development. As a software engineer, I could remember learning specific programming languages (RichFaces, Primefaces, Google widget (GWT) etc.) to help speed up software development on specific tasks I had. My focus is not on the fact that these development frameworks no longer exist, but to appreciate how much human efforts have been put into making things easier with each technological advancement. Nowadays, we see frameworks and platforms that help non-IT professionals to achieve their day-to-day activities (referred to business as usual activities) effortlessly without prior knowledge of software development. These frameworks and platforms are referred to as “no-code” systems. As a non-IT professional, you could do a lot with generating reports; either structured or ad-hoc reports just by dragging and /or clicking a couple of buttons.
Furthermore, having stated the advancement in technology and by extension IT automation, I will not fail to mention that this advancement has met with stiff opposition in most corporate organisations. One of the most important concerns of IT automation is job security. We all live in uncertain times where holding on to one’s means of livelihood is crucial due to the recent downward trend in key economic performance indicators (rise in inflation, high cost of living, etc.). As a result, staff for whom aspects of their jobs can be automated are often faced with anxiety due to the uncertainty of not knowing what next if a routine they have mastered over the years is now subject to automation.
While empathising with staff who face such anxiety , the damaging effect of lack of IT automation in an organisation cannot be over emphasised. Firstly, the fear of a second and third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has been a major concern for every government around the world. In addition, mutations such as the delta variant of the virus likely means it’s a pandemic we may have to live with for a very long time. WHO and other professionals health bodies around the globe continue to advise that the less objects/devices we touch the more we reduce the chances of transmitting the deadly virus. For a corporate entity to comply with this guideline, automation is the way to go in order to reduce/prevent human touch. A good example is a paperless office space. Rather than carrying hard copy memos, letters, invites around for signing, the company should invest in approval workflow applications that would help digitise the process.
Secondly, an organisation that wants to keep their staff and reduce staff turnover must embrace IT automation. Leaders need talent working on strategic priorities daily in the workplace as opposed to drudge work that can be automated. Also, IT people whose companies keep them on monotonous work are more likely to leave – for a more innovative environment where they can grow their careers. Thirdly, IT space is now fast paced because of huge competition from new market entrants. Failing to automate processes will mean late release of a product and by the time it gets out into the market, the market would have moved on.
We cannot totally separate organisational leadership from IT automation because they drive the process. As we all know everything rises and falls on leadership of an organisation, which means the extent or lack of automation clearly shows the corporate goal of the leadership of such organisations. The motivation for automation must be tied to a business goal such as: to increase revenue and bring down expenditure. Moreover, identifying which process to automate is very important in the decision making process, because automating a process which will not have any direct impact on cost reduction and effective use of human resources is probably not a wise choice. Low skill work is a good candidate for IT automation as this allows technical staff to make best use of their time.
In addition, management has a huge role to play in communicating the importance of IT automation and assuring staff their job security. Communication is very important in an organisation because it’s a good way to disseminate organisational mission, visions, goals and objectives to the work-force who are key drivers to the overall success of a corporate strategy. Staff should be made to realise they are an integral part of the company’s growth, as mundane repetitive tasks are being automated away, they should be encouraged to conduct research and high-order work, the type that will advance their career.
Another role leadership needs to play is the management of any resulting culture shock that may occur in driving the automation process. Staff members might feel awkward not going through their daily routine where they have direct interaction or impact in completing an operational process. Occasional interference on the process might be observed by staff that cannot help being an on-looking of the automated process. Rather than sanctions, re-orientation of the new way of working is very important at this point because the staff might be suffering from culture shock. Also, we do not expect this transition to be a flip of a switch, structured or unstructured training should be organised by the management to help hand-hold staff throughout the process automation journey so they can be culturally fit for the new system.
In conclusion, with the right vision and strategies properly aligned to corporate business strategies, process automation would be the first step towards self-learning processes where the system would be able to monitor and self-test itself leading to excellent business processes and service delivery.