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Automation in flight:
An analogy

 

By Lance Hattendorf
Harpyja Business Change Executive

Automation is an old art that applies to most human endeavours. Back in 1903, Wilbur Wright flew lying on his stomach, pushing and pulling levers in a bird-like fashion. Bird-like efforts to fly were not scalable in terms of flying distance and number of passengers. The need for automation was an early realisation in aviation; as early as 1912, Lawrence Sperry created the first automation tool to avoid pilots having to balance the plane in flight. After WW2, the expansion of large-scale commercial aviation called for more automation. The process has been so dramatic that at that time commercial planes had five crew members in the cockpit: a flight engineer, a radio operator, a navigator and two pilots. 

During the 1970s, airlines realised most accidents were caused by human error, so automation was linked to safety and aviation companies started exploring using digital technology. Automation brought safe larger scale deployments (new routes, more passengers) at lower CAPEX and OPEX, and as a consequence, the first three jobs above are largely unnecessary today; pilots are mainly needed for take-off and landing (most other tasks have been mostly automated).

The Information Technology (IT) industry is experiencing the same automation revolution the aviation industry went through nearly 50 years ago. It can be argued that the information technology sector can benefit from the same scale, safety, and cost efficiencies in a much shorter time.

These benefits have been made possible by the fast maturation of technologies such as Robotic/Intelligent Process Automation (RPA/IPA) built on advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accelerate more classic Business Process Modelling (BPM).


Automation - Drivers for Change

At the early turn of the century, it is possible someone looked into the sky and asked,” Why fly? Why launch ourselves into the air in the hopes to land in a completely different location when we have other known options such as ships, automobiles and trains?”. It is appropriate to start an analysis of automation by asking the question, “Why automate? What are the drivers to automation?”. 

To answer this question, Amane Dannouni with Boston Consulting Group (Dannouni, n.d.) notes a global business trend in that the probability that the market share leader will also be the profitability share leader has shrunk from 25% in 1960 to just 7% in 2019. This indicates a fundamental change in strategic advantage: Positional advantage is no longer sustainable. Boston Consulting Group (Dannouni, n.d.) also notes that the reason for this shift is due to global markets being more unpredictable and malleable caused by the breaking up of the historic vertically integrated supply chain, whereby an enterprise sought to own and control their supply chain from end to end, to a “stacking” of disparate providers to make up the entire supply chain. Shifting to the new archetype has been driven by customer demand by allowing specialist firms, organisations that have a narrow focus on a specific function, to take over specific layers of the supply chain stack. This has been exponentially exacerbated by digital transformation initiatives (Dannouni, n.d.) as evidenced by the growth of technological advances that far outpaces business capabilities to keep up. This gap is known as the technology value gap (Nunes, 2020). Whether by your organisation or a competitor, the value caused by the technology value gap will be realised.

Digital automation is a natural part of modern digital transformation initiatives, and as such, the value of automation should be initially scoped through fulfilling one of two business purposes, enhancing the customer experience or operational excellence through increased efficiency (Dannouni, n.d.).

Gartner (2019) predicts that by 2024 organizations will reduce operating costs by 30% by aligning automation technologies with streamlined operational processes. Within this concept, automation will take several forms, naturally evolve as integration layers, or applications with inbuilt workflow. Both forms should be considered as part of enterprise architecture. The point being that automation will happen and, because there is a cost and benefit associated, automation should be planned and implemented to maximize the benefit and minimize the cost. 

Automation in organizations can be approached from two different directions depending on resource capabilities: The enterprise-driven approach and the employee-driven approach (UiPath Academy, n.d.). 


The enterprise-driven approach enables a specialized team (RPA Centre of Excellence) to manage automation processes in a centralized way by:

● Sourcing the best processes automation through professional tools and methodologies

● Driving each step of the automation cycle

The employee-driven approach empowers each employee to automate by:

● Examining employee’s process and proposing automation

● Document the processes on which employees have expertise

● Equipping employees with the tools for automaton

● Developing automated processes

The approach chosen should be determined by several factors including budgetary considerations, centralised vs. distributed decision-making abilities by operations leads, and the maturity level of an organisations security and privacy processes including role-based access controls. 

How about your workplace? What would you do with a digital assistant? 


By Lance Hattendorf

Harpyja – Business Change Executive 

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