Automation technologies are completely transforming the way businesses operate. An array of robotic process automation and cognitive tools create efficiencies by relieving staff from having to complete manual and often quite repetitive tasks. This helps businesses cut costs across their networks and security infrastructure in their call centres.
Automation is a godsend for cash-strapped CIOs who need to meet increasing technology demands from business users while providing their own technology teams with more interesting, high value jobs.
Tech chiefs gathered in Sydney recently to discuss the challenges they face in rolling out automation technologies. The discussion was supported by Juniper Networks.
Ash Halford, director, Aust/NZ systems engineering at Juniper Networks, says that automated ‘self-driving’ networks that can largely fix themselves without human intervention are on the horizon.
“As an industry, we are quite a way from that right now so we’ve been working on several steps to enable customers to move towards that long-term vision. And this is going to involve artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as a range of other technologies.”
This change is also going to drive a lot of requirements for people to up-skill themselves and change the way that they approach their day-to-day tasks because we are going to be looking at taking a lot of processes that are done around networks and begin to automate them,” he says.
The challenge, says Halford, is that there is a natural resistance from people who do these tasks today so a cultural change is needed as well.
“People might think that automation is going to change the workforce numbers but in fact, what it can initially do is improve reliability and prevent costs that end customers and users see on those networks and that’s the initial opportunity,” he says.
Larger organisations leading the charge
Halford says larger companies are tackling automation first, those with a big workforce and a lot more technical skills to take it on. These organisations probably have the most to gain as well, he says.
“The first companies we’ve dealt with that are doing this are called the ‘hyper-scalers’, the Googles, the Amazons, the Facebooks, the Apples of the world,” he says.
“Their operations are so large that they have the most to gain and they also have a very technical workforce. Their environments are largely based on data centres and that has enabled automation to happen a lot quicker than it would if networks are physically dispersed across the country,” he says.
Automation supports key objectives
Leon Hagopian, director, automation and intelligent monitoring program, group technology at UBS, says a key objective for an IT organisation must be the ability to confidently affirm the state of the production environment, during significant market events, month and quarter end, and during periods of high market volatility.
“This can only be achieved through scalable, agile and predictive automation and telemetry tooling. Developing, funding and executing against a roadmap is critical to achieving such goals. Having siloed, low-hanging fruit objectives will meet immediate goals, particularly automating repeatable and commoditised work. This will not transform the organisation into a world-class one,” he says.
Hagopian cites a quote from a former football manager of an English club who was asked why a rival manager couldn’t get the best out of world-class player, and he said: “What’s the use in having a Ferrari if you do not know how to drive it.”
There is no better way to describe the current status of automation and robotics, he says.
The tooling is readily available and comes in many forms and sizes, and the ability of large organisations to reap the benefits – constrained by legacy applications, the inability to leverage big data analytics and legacy mindsets, is where the number one challenge is, he adds
Andrew Atkin, head of information technology at Lindt & Springli, says the organisation is about to launch an automation proof-of-concept for one of its businesses. This will lead to the IT department launching a platform that automates manual, non-value added tasks.
The challenge, he says, will be ensuring that employees don’t perceive automation as a cost cutting exercise that will result in job losses.
“Managing the user experience that automation is removing the ‘non-value added’ tasks and then concentrating on analytical and exceptions handling tasks that robots cannot manage is vital,” he says.
Atkin says the automation journey will allow the business to reengineer many of its processes to get a much more efficient employee, customer and vendor experience.
Leon Gu, global director of information technology at StayWell Holdings, says the hotel group is implementing a new loyal card program which, using a Wi-Fi system, collects guest data and automatically provide reward and promotion to loyal customers
“For internal colleagues, we are automatically identifying high risk user accounts and providing key performance indicator (KPI) reports to sales manager through the integration of data.
“Our vision for next year is to partner with a BI supplier to build a ‘big button’ that we just press to [automatically generate] reports to meet deadlines for our operations in Japan and Australia,” he says.
A highly-available, more efficient workforce
UBS’ Hagopian says automation creates a significantly improved end user experience for the investment bank driven by self-service adoption and predictive technologies, as well as lean technology-centric workforces driven by an innovation and research culture.
“Automation also provides a highly-available production environment that is strongly supported by big data analytics. This provides production assurance through predictive and preventative self-healing technologies.”
He suggests that organisations align to develop a long-term strategy with clear objectives and a funding pathway. These objectives must include automating and eliminating commoditised and repeatable work to be an immediate priority, ensuring immediate benefits are realised.
Onboarding of critical tier 1 applications into predictive and telemetry tooling, which allows the landscape to ‘visualised, predictive and affirmed’ is also vital as well as encouraging and promoting an innovation and research culture through gamification, promotional challenges and recognition of achievements, he says.
“Be patient, this is an evolution, not a revolution,” he says.