The What-is of automation

A simple search on the internet today would reveal a plethora of resources and definitions for automation. It would however befit to understand the etymological meaning of the word before we dive deeper into automation and what it means in today’s world. Automation is made up of automatic + ion. Automatic further has its roots in Greek/Latin as auto + matos. Auto indicates “self” and matos means “willing”. So “automatic” means self-willing or self-acting. Automation as a word was devised in the industrial era to mean something with a self-acting capability. The word was introduced by the automobile industry in 1946 and was popularly used in manufacturing. Though the English word “automation” was introduced in 1946, the art of automating human tasks has a history that dates back to a time when man worked with stones.

For those who are history enthusiasts, this article should give a brief timeline of some of the early developments in what we today popularly know as automation.

Before the digital era, automation was a common word in manufacturing, textile, automobile, and other industrial circles. However, this article tries to explore what automation in digital means, specifically to businesses that are looking at transforming digitally using computers and related technologies.

Automation today in the technology industry simply means the ability to perform a given task repeatedly with low or no human intervention. “Repeatedly” can be likened to “Robotic” as well, where a human is replaced partially or fully by a Robot to do some predefined set of tasks, repeatedly. Robotic automation in industries such as manufacturing and automobile is not new, it has been existing for some time now. What is picking steam now is the automation of business and IT processes.

RPA or Robotic Process Automation attempts to remove or minimize human intervention in business process workflows by using software bots to perform some of the repetitive and low-value tasks within a business process workflow. Some of the key returns derived by employing RPA in business processes are the following (but not limited to) -
- Cost savings due to faster turnarounds
- Bandwidth to employ human resources on high-value projects
- Lower the errors in process workflows
- Adoption of electronic resources, replacing paperwork

With the emergence of newer technologies in the field of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, the ability to automate processes has only improved. RPAs employ rule based decision making programs to perform an automated task within a process, while Machine Learning employs sophisticated algorithms and data from the processes to continuously learn and act.

As an example of business process automation, this article by McKinsey is a good read.

Automation in the digital era is a result of the emergence of related technologies. Data is going to be the key. Algorithms that mine the data to learn and act is going to be the new norm in developing automations that can replace some of the more difficult or complex human tasks.

RPA is leading markets to a space now popularly called as hyperautomation.

According to Gartner the RPA software revenue potential is expected to be $2 Billion in 2021.
- Source: https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-09-21-gartner-says-worldwide-robotic-process-automation-software-revenue-to-reach-nearly-2-billion-in-2021

The advancement of automation also signifies the need for technological advancements to create newer markets and newer businesses. Automation is leading to the right shift of the human workforce along the x-axis of possibilities!

This post is first in the series for automation, in my future posts we will explore some of the aspects related to the hyperautomation market and some of the automation trends and use cases. Stay tuned.

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