Automation is not just about AI, it’s about enhancing business efficiency

Automation is not just about AI, it’s about enhancing business efficiency

Automation can strike fear into the hearts of employees as they associate automation with redundancies. But this is not the case, argues Raeford Liebenberg, Manager at Silver Moon IT, a Galix company. He explains how automation does not always involve AI and how there are many ways that automation can help to improve business efficiency that do not involve the use of AI at all. He discusses how automation can replace mundane, low-value tasks that improve people’s ability to do their jobs.

The terms ‘automation’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) have become synonymous with each other in recent times and are often used interchangeably. This can make the concept of automation seem overwhelming to some businesses that are not yet in a stage of their digitalisation journey where AI would be practical or beneficial. However, while automation could involve the use of AI, they are not the same thing, and there are many ways that automation can help to improve business efficiency that do not involve the use of AI at all. When it comes to leveraging the business benefits of automation across an organisation, a trusted IT partner can ensure automation is applied to the most appropriate areas for maximum return on investment.

It’s not always AI

Automation goes beyond AI to encompass many other areas. The point of automation is to introduce new efficiencies, not necessarily to replace people or processes, but to help improve business data, accuracy, decision-making, agility and more. It can also help people to be more productive and allow businesses to focus on more strategic elements by taking over repetitive and mundane tasks and it can reduce human error, with many associated benefits.

Robotics is a classic example of automation that has nothing to do with AI – and the same is true for many workflows and business processes. While AI can be used to augment certain elements if required, especially if there is a need for some sort of analytics, process automation can be easily implemented without AI for a cost-effective business solution.

Automation at the heart of a digital business

The first step in any digital journey is moving from being paper-based to data-based – in other words storing documents digitally in the cloud. In the cloud, they can easily be accessed from anywhere by anyone who needs them, rather than these files existing on a server in the back room – or even in a filing cabinet in someone’s office. For businesses that still use manual, paper-based processes, implementing AI straight off the bat is typically not the right solution. There are, however, simple and cost-effective ways that automation and digitalisation could be used to enhance the business.

One example in South Africa is the offices of medical practitioners. So many of them still use paper diaries for appointments, and people have to phone in to make an appointment, with receptionists checking books, writing and erasing names and details and requesting the same information every time. This is a very ‘low hanging fruit’ that could easily benefit from digitalisation and automation, and a centralised, automated online booking system would dramatically improve efficiency and accuracy as well as customer service.

Another example is looking at how many companies in South Africa still rely on paper forms or emails for leave. This is a really easy win to put online, and it can be linked into other systems like payroll to improve accuracy and calendars so that people are aware of leave being taken. Reports can also be run with 100% accuracy to tally leave taken versus leave owed.

Quick wins for ROI without massive spend

Rather than spending millions of Rands on fancy machinery or AI systems that promise to revolutionise business, these quick wins are fast and cost-effective ways to make everyday business easier and more efficient. The key is to understand processes and how they can be simplified using digitalisation and automation to work better, faster, more accurately and more efficiently. While AI and data management can play a role in this, businesses can start so much simpler and see real benefits from the outset.

Automation is not, at its heart, about training Large Language Models (LLMs) to ‘take over’ from people, it is about improving processes with people in mind and about better understanding the business to see how it can be improved. Once this has been achieved, the process data can be analysed to enable businesses to make enhanced decisions – for example, whether the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are being measured are in line with business requirements, measuring the right criteria and producing effective results. With automation implemented in the right way, more people can be empowered to make better decisions, with the data to back this up.

Not about replacing people

Businesses always need to balance automation with the people factor, and while many tasks can be replaced, we need to appreciate the human cost. Understanding what to automate and what not to can be a challenge, which is where a trusted IT partner can be invaluable. They can help businesses to map processes, identify quick wins, improve efficiency and replace mundane, low-value tasks that improve people’s ability to do their jobs. This is the key to successfully implementing automation in a way that delivers maximum benefit and streamlines operations so people are empowered, not replaced.

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