Can You Keep Up: Where Are You on the Automation Curve?

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Everything is being automated, where is your department on the automation curve?

It seemed like a pretty small thing at the time. I had a Sears gift card and it was expiring soon so I decided to walk into the nearest Sears and buy whatever seemed interesting.

I entered the store in the Electronics department and wandered over to the first aisle, which was littered with a variety of home automation hardware. I encountered a wide variety of smart light bulbs, smart thermostats, smart fire alarms, etc.

Needless to say, it all looked pretty smart and I'd just read that sales of home automation devices are expected to grow at a rate of 67 percent over the next five years, so I figured there might be something to it. I bought the Philips Hue lighting kit since I'd read about it not long ago, and wanted to see what just it could do.

When I got home, I plugged in the smart hub and screwed in smart bulbs around the house. I downloaded the Hue app, which found the hub and all the bulbs immediately. That's when the light went on. Literally and figuratively.

Related Article:Tech Evolution: Will Internet of Things Die Before it Gets a Chance?

Automate Everything

A short time later, my wife and I were excitedly discussing the previously­unknown possibilities of automating our home. I connected web services (IFTTT) to our smart lights and soon the light by the front door turned blue whenever it started raining (or red when it was going to be above 90 degrees). The bedroom lights turned on at sunrise and off at sunset.

Our family room lights turned green on Wednesdays to remind us to take out the trash. Our minds raced with ideas beyond lights so I bought a Samsung SmartThings hub and now we had motion sensors, temperature sensors, door and window sensors all talking to each other and triggering each other to do things.

Some of the automation we've set up are purely for fun but most of them perform a useful function. For instance, even when I'm running out the door in a hurry, if I see the light by the front door is blue I remember to grab an umbrella. If we leave the patio door open when we leave home, we get an alert to go back and close it. Added up, all of these small automations make us smarter and safer.

Automating "Things" in the  Enterprise

In business, “connectedness” and the IoT (Internet of Things) continue to demand attention. According to CMO.com, "By 2020, the amount of Internet­connected things will reach 50 billion, with $19 trillion in profits and cost savings coming from IoT over the next decade." The bulk of the smart devices will continue to be in business settings (factories, hospitals, etc.) even as smart homes become more ubiquitous. Needless to say, a lot of effort will be needed to be invested in order to make businesses smarter and more connected, especially when it comes to "things."

Everything from jet engines to whiskey bottles is being equipped to provide a continuous stream of data about what's happening in them, to them or around them. Parking lots are becoming optimized thanks to "smart parking spaces" that know when they're empty. Trash cans cry out to waste hauling companies that they're full.

Related Article:5 Smart Startups Harnessing the Power of the Internet of Things

Automation for Non­-Things

Amidst all this IoT hype, let's put all the "things" to the side for a moment and consider all the people and processes that can benefit from automation. After all, the goal of any business automation is to improve:

  • Productivity
  • Efficiency
  • Accuracy
  • Response Time
  • Communication

In most organizations (especially those without a physical product), this means automating processes rather than things. For instance, marketing automation has become a standard for large and small marketing departments, allowing us to trigger emails when people view certain content, assign leads to sales reps based on industry, size or product interest, etc.

This not only allows marketers to spend more time on creative work and strategy rather than the administrative tasks that marketing automation has replaced; but it also improves the effectiveness of their marketing efforts overall by providing objective analytics on what's working and what isn’t.

Up to this point, other departments have been slower to adopt the automation concept. HR, Finance, IT and other departments invest in systems to store information (ERP, CRM, Asset Management, etc.) but often rely on old school methods for collecting, sharing, approving and tracking information. Anyone who's ever filled out a spreadsheet and attached it to an email to submit expenses knows what I mean.

Consider your department or business unit's daily work processes and start asking yourself and your team members:

  • What do we spend most of our time doing?
  • Does it involve capturing and distributing information?
  • Do those activities involve consistent, straightforward, repeatable decisions to be made (e.g. If the invoice is more than $500 send it to Bob? Otherwise, send it to Joyce)?
  • Can those activities be fully or partially automated through technology? How much time would be saved by automating?
  • Would it positively affect internal or external customers? What would that mean to the organization's bottom line? What could we do with the time saved?

Related Article:Internet of Things: Security, Compliance, Risks and Opportunities

Share notes and start thinking about which automation will have the greatest impact and require the least amount of effort. Start with those. You can take on more complex improvements as you get “smarter”. There are likely dozens of processes and tasks you and your team deal with every day that can get a lot smarter.

Did your light just turn on?

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