Operations Management and Automation
Before 1952, in bowling alleys across the country, "pin boys" would pick up the pins, reset them, and return the balls to players. In later years, this technology would grow to incorporate scorekeeping, foul line violations, and lighted pin indicators. This is one brief example of how automation revolutionized a business and a sport. Since then, automation has helped to reinvigorate businesses of all sizes, throughout all industries.
Companies today face increasing demands to do more with less, but they must figure out a way to automate their processes in conjunction with professionals who have operations management expertise. Recognizing that leveraging selective automation, in conjunction with utilizing the skills and expertise of a human workforce, is an incredibly effective way of harnessing digital and human capabilities.Why Automate?
Robots maneuver down aisles choosing products to fill customer orders. A camera’s eye looks for defective products rolling down an assembly line. Software applications generate automatic shipping notifications once purchases are ready. These are examples of innovative ways companies have incorporated automation into their operations. Automation can reduce the amount of dangerous and laborious tasks once completed by humans as well as:
- Decrease production time
- Increase manufacturing flexibility
- Lower production costs
- Eliminate human error
- Compensate for labor shortages
The advantages of automation are clear but there also are several disadvantages.Why not to choose Automation
Automation enhances manufacturing processes for products and delivery of a wide variety of services. Because of this, it is easy to assume that automating is the surest way to reduce cost and increase profit but that often is not the case. The high capital expenditure of implementing automation and the fact that industrial machinery leads to job loss for many, are two reasons that some companies do not automate as much as they could. Further, automated machines cannot:
- Respond quickly and flexibly to unexpected events like slight deviations to product specifications
- Work efficiently without a trained stable of mechanics and techs
- Give clients the experience of working with a person
- Facilitate collaboration between employees
- Act on sentient knowledge
Heavily automating more functions than necessary may increase profits but it can contribute to a dehumanizing work environment. Less frequent human interaction can leave workers feeling increasingly isolated and may even decrease intrinsic motivation.Automation And Humans Working Together
When the topic of automation comes up, the framework for discussion often becomes automation versus humans. This either/or thinking is not productive and can create a win-lose dynamic. For example, if companies automate, they profit but people lose jobs. If companies do not automate they will be left behind by the competition. There is another answer and that is to rely on a thoughtful combination of automation and humans. This new way of thinking creates a win-win dynamic. John Boudreau, Research Director at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business1 echoes this thought:
"The future of learning will rely on a mix of algorithms, cloud-based data and human-machine interfaces. Optimizing that brave new world will require leaders reframe how they think about the work, the workforce, and the fundamental relationship between people and automation."
Executives in all industries, continue to brainstorm about automated processes while also capitalizing on the experience of professionals. Even the most advanced forms of artificial intelligence are no substitute for the experience, business savvy, soft-skills, and leadership of seasoned workers.