Raging with the machine – the three phases of process automation

There are three phases to process automation: doing things better, doing more things, and doing more things with less. With each phase comes maturity and benefits like improved quality, better consistency, reduced waste, and cost containment. Combined, the goal of automation is maintaining a competitive edge. What’s in it for your organization? How can you rage with the machine?

Developments in technology, communication, and materials have ramped up production capabilities of both individuals and manufacturing processes. Factor in cross-industry collaboration, the result is innovative and sustainable solutions like self-healing concrete, remotely-operated mining equipment, driverless vehicles, and household robots. The ability to automate processes is an essential part of transforming ideas into desirable products. Why? Because process automation enables you to connect processes, it facilitates cross-organizational collaboration, reduces time to market, enables more complex services, and readily adapts to changing business environments.

A couple of years ago, I was trying to figure out how our solution was performing on different platforms. I had access to a massive amount of raw monitoring data collected by several different systems. What I needed to do was select the pieces of data that could provide insight about performance, and figure out how to transform the raw data into something meaningful, into intelligence that I could use as a basis for making decisions.   

Once I’d figured out the metrics, I determined a weighting system for each piece of data according to what I believed to be strategically important at the time. The result was a formula that would provide me with monthly figures that I could analyze for trends, spikes, and dips. 

Unfortunately, the process to extract the information manually was time consuming, it simply wasn’t scalable. So, I developed a script to extract the raw data via the API of each monitoring system and perform the weighting calculations, and export the result to a datasheet. All I had to do was run the script when I needed to, saving me hours of work, yet providing me with the customized insight I needed to make business decisions. 

Over the years, automation has played a significant role in industry. The matrix developed by David Autor (et al.)   shows example occupations divided into four categories: routine, non-routine, cognitive and manual. The matrix also shows how well the job category responds to computerization. 

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The broad strokes of what Autor and his fellow researchers concluded was that automation removes the need for humans in manual routine jobs like vehicle assembly and mining. But that non-routine manual tasks like cleaning are hard to fully automate – at least for now. Greatest inroads are being made in the cognitive routine sector, because these types of tasks are well understood, procedural, and can be codified – tasks like my performance calculation example above.

The impact of deeper automation on society and the controversy surrounding the capability of software to carry out white-collar jobs are widely-debated subjects. Since they came into existence, machines have been putting humans out of jobs. But robots and automated workflows also remove people from hazardous working environments and mind-numbing, repetitive jobs. History has shown that as we progress, we create new disciplines with new products that people want to consume – which in turn creates new jobs.

As Autor points out in his TED talk will automation take away all our jobs, just a century ago the farming industry in the US accounted for 40% of the workforce, today that figure has dropped to 2%. Likewise, systems administrators once needed teams of people to manage the infrastructure needs of large corporations. Today, entire virtual environments can be spun up from a desktop without the need for deep IT knowledge. Automation takes care of the mundane monitoring of machines, balancing of workloads, approval processes, software requests, license assignments, and other tasks like tracking costs and accurately forecasting need. 

Like most innovations, reaping the benefits of automation is itself a process. Automating business processes occurs in phases that provide varying benefits along the way. To illustrate the point, let’s look back at how the telecoms industry has evolved. Early telephony enabled one-to-one voice communication. The switch enabled one-to-many communication. The automatic switch removed the need for manual operators. Since then, many technologies such as mobile communications, the smartphone, multiplexing, video compression, and a quantum leap in computational power have contributed to building a multi-faceted system capable of supporting a massive range of applications – way beyond Bell’s original vision of voice communication, with the potential to connect everyone on the planet.  

Gartner  qualifies the benefits of maturing automation and the types of benefits in three phases: 

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On- and off-boarding employees is one process that all organizations share. It is a hard process to get right because it demands alignment among multiple internal stakeholders. Yet automating business processes like onboarding provides organizations with an opportunity to close inefficiency gaps. At Snow, we’ve been talking about ideas such as zero-touch. How can you, for example, provide new employees with the devices they need to carry out their tasks, together with software and applications pre-installed, as well as pre-configured network settings based on location. The goal is not just to automate internal processes to reduce the number of manual interventions, but to automate collaboration with all entities in the supply chain, to attain full zero-touch processing. 



As the Product Manager for Snow Automation Platform, I see how organizations struggle with implementing automation, but I also see how successful customers become once they have automated their routine procedures. The desire to move up the maturity ladder from efficiency gains, to doing more, increasing accuracy, and to doing it all with less seems to be innate.

The satisfaction that comes from getting a machine to carry out mundane tasks is the underlying concept of Snow Automation Platform. The platform provides building blocks as well as workflows to get processes out of manual loops and into the machine, enabling sys admins and IT staff to spend their time solving more strategic issues than resetting passwords.

Here are a couple of things you can do with the platform out of the box:



The ultimate stage of automation maturity is optimization and cost containment. Once processes are automated, costs can be contained through reduced need for manual labor and physical resources. For example, use of infrastructure and software can be automated so that these resources can be made available (within licensing T&Cs) to users at the moment of need. Leaving IT to focus on strategic initiatives such as monitoring of infrastructure and software usage to make decisions and accurate forecasts – arming the organization with insight for better renegotiation discussions at renewal times. 

SaaS usage optimization enables organizations to control use of software by automatically pooling licenses after a period of inactivity. 

IaaS usage optimization enables organizations to control use of infrastructure by informing users about machines running empty. 

The opportunities for automation in Software Asset Management are as diverse as they are beneficial. The real advantage of an integrated automation platform in your SAM system is the ability to implement as many automated workflows as you can imagine.To learn more about Snow Automation Platform, take a Snow test drive, or checkout what Swedbank has achieved in their organization with the product.