Be curious about automation

By Jen Neumann / Guest Column

It’s graduation season. The announcements are piling up on my desk and a whole new batch of graduates are headed out to the working world, in so many fields. And yet what I’ve noticed as an employer is that many graduates are leaving their four-year institutions with skills most em­ployers have already automated or are moving to automate in the future.

Automation was once the realm of the Jet­sons, and high-tech manufacturing – the robots are coming for our jobs! – was beyond the grasp of most small and mid-size companies.

With constant advances, automation is now available to almost all industries – not to men­tion in our homes, cars and daily lives. We’ve come to expect it and are sometimes shocked when something isn’t automated, like that bath­room faucet that you still have to turn on manu­ally. Oh, the humanity.

The progression of automation over time has answered several needs, with two of them being ways to reduce labor costs and increase produc­tivity. Often this is met with a sense of alarm, but automation has made many more jobs possible and drives better skills and higher wages in the long run.

The definition of automation is the technolo­gy by which a process or procedure is performed without human assistance. Simple enough. But what does that mean for companies looking to automate their processes?

Many companies here in the ICR Corridor have their eyes firmly fixed on automation as the future of their industry – whether it’s pro­duction, a process (like marketing) or a future technology (like driverless cars).

As we approach lower employment rates, au­tomation seems poised to handle jobs that many employers struggle to fill. For the companies and people who are seeking to understand and use automation for these reasons, there’s one way to get there: Be curious. Ask yourself, “What could be better about this process that frees people up to do more important work?” Automation im­plementation is born where curiosity and neces­sity intersect.

Most non-industrial process automation within smaller companies begins with a Google search. It could be a SaaS platform, online time­keeping solution, APIs that help programs talk to each other, programmatic advertising and automated marketing activities, automated bill­ing and collections or HR platforms that free up time for other responsibilities.

Automation isn’t a silver bullet, of course. It isn’t really as easy as searching the internet, pick­ing a service and boom – you’ve got efficiency! It often takes extended research and training, as well as understanding and adoption. However, overcoming these hurdles pays off in the long run if you can focus your employees’ strengths on productive activities that drive results and/or revenue.

Bringing it back to graduates, automation of workplace functions isn’t something that is being taught in a lot of four-year institutions. Graduates, employees, business owners and the C-suite need to be curious about how automa­tion can benefit themselves or their business. The curiosity and drive to find a better solution is the place to start.

Fortunately, there are a lot of classes through MOOC (Massive Open Online Classroom) plat­forms like edX and Coursera, and learning sites like that can help the curious expand their knowledge and learn more about processes that can help build efficiency and profit in busi­ness, among many other topics.

These platforms aren’t just for students — they’re for anyone who seeks to learn. Provid­ing membership to your employees can pay dividends and allow them to be problem solvers within your industry. It’s a small price to pay for something can yield big results.

Jen Neumann is a partner with de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids.