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Keeping a lid on costs while maintaining productivity has become a key objective for many Australian businesses, but successfully balancing these imperatives requires fundamental change.
The way tasks were handled before COVID-19 must be re-engineered while the short-term fixes rolled out during 2020 have to be examined and refined.
To achieve this, increasing numbers of businesses are sizing up the potential of process automation and artificial intelligence. They’re keen to understand how the tools and technologies can be put to work and what benefits they might deliver.
There are four key ways in which automation and AI will help Australian businesses in the coming years. They are:
Enhanced decision making
Based on current development trends, within the next five years, it is likely that up to 25 per cent of decisions made in human-centric workflows will be made by AI and Machine Learning (ML) tools. These tools will examine existing processes and past results and develop basic rules for common scenarios.
As an example, AI tools could develop rules for staff leave requests. Such requests currently require manual processing by a person who needs to check entitlements, leave already granted to other staff, and critical events within the business. An AI tool could do all this automatically.
Customer complaint handling could also be changed. Rather than a manager needing to approve a discount or other remediation, an AI tool could automatically review previous similar events and take the appropriate steps.
The tools will also increasingly help improve data governance, security, and compliance. Automation can not only streamline data management, but also flag anomalies and prevent potential breaches.
Finally delivering the ‘paperless office’
It’s something that’s been promised for decades, but may soon actually become a reality for many businesses. Forced to work remotely, many staff have already come to terms with swapping paper documents for electronic equivalents, and the trend is likely to accelerate.
The benefits of going digital are significant. Digital forms can be more user friendly and automate processes. Additional features like barcode scanners, geolocation tags, and attachment uploading make them a natural fit for dispersed workforces.
Also, with health precautions likely to remain top of mind for some time to come, replacing paper with digital alternatives can help reduce the chance of viral spreading.
AR/VR in the workplace
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been evolving rapidly in recent years and are shifting from being novelty items to powerful business tools. The technology is already in use by companies in the manufacturing, medical and aeronautics sectors.
AR and VR can help to streamline processes and automate tasks. Examples include staff onboarding, training, and user support. For example, a personalised digital virtual assistant could walk new staff through preliminary paperwork and processes when they first join a firm.
Accessed through a headset, the assistant could answer simple questions and guide systems and processes. Such capabilities will be particularly beneficial when staff work remotely and need support to complete their tasks.
AR and VR tools could streamline everything from equipment repairs to answering client queries for field workers.
With business conditions changing rapidly, ensuring staff has the skills they require to meet new opportunities can be challenging. Knowing process automation technologies and how they can be applied will become vital and extend how they can add value to organisations.
To help achieve this, the curriculums in use at all levels of Australian education will soon incorporate subjects focused on diverse types of automation and how they can streamline workplaces.
The topics covered will also be designed to ensure that future staff members understand how automation and robotics can add value and why they should not be concerned that their jobs will simply disappear. Rather than teaching students how to build robots, the focus will instead be on finding ways to incorporate them in workflows to boost overall organisational productivity.
Automation has already had a noticeable impact within many firms, but what has been achieved is nothing compared with what will be seen in coming years.
Those Australian firms who invest in the technologies and skill development required now will be best placed to take advantage of new opportunities as they appear in the future.