In my last three articles, I have explained the characteristics of a purposeful and results oriented digital transformation of business […], the importance of prioritising bringing your business online over other strategic initiatives […] and the importance of carefully selecting the right area and niche for your (online) business to ensure relevance in good and less good times […]. In this article, I am going to explain how Digital Automation of Business, is the only way to ensure a sustainable future for your enterprise. But this time, looking a bit more into the future. Or perhaps not really?
All the components of our economies work to satisfy one of our ten major needs, if we oversimplify it: We need to have our basic needs i.e. water, food, clothing, shelter and our safety, provisioned. Then we need to ensure continuity of our societies i.e. reproduction and education, secured. And thereafter, we seek belonging, happiness, and meaning. The whole economy of our societies is based on satisfying one of these needs through product and solutions which most of us are not producing ourselves anymore.
Human started the modern life by increasing its ability in better satisfying its needs through increased capabilities brought by discoveries and inventions. As an example, discovering fire has made it possible to have a different diet resulting in a big shift in human’s availability and ability to think. And inventing wheels made it possible to move around faster transporting goods. We have built our modern world, through this continued discovery and invention.
With the development of our capabilities as a result of the continued discoveries and inventions, we have become able to build more than what was needed to satisfy our basic needs. More in quantity, but also quality and diversity. Now we could create food, which was not necessary, but nice to have – such as sweets – which satisfied our higher needs than water, food and shelter, or we could build roads and ships to reach out to places which were not to keep us fed or safe, but as we fancied exploring. This endless desire for more, resulted in the need to build more and to build new. The volume and complexity of these fabrications, needed new ways of designing, producing and provisioning. That was why we moved from being a multi-skill creature to a specialized modern human which resulted in creation of various professions and jobs.
The industrial revolution made it possible for us to get really close to what we dreamed. The digital revolution however, is making it possible to dream about what we can get really close to. Just as an example, think about what the world of implanted artificial intelligence in human brain can make possible for the upcoming generations.
With the artificial intelligence weaved into the brain cells of future human, the Business Automation of Future – read few years to a decade from now – will start from human brain itself. That is when our basic needs can be accessed via direct commands from our brains to the environment around us, or when a new skill can be accessed via a direct link to the references sitting in the future Knowledge Cloud – a potential future for the Internet – giving us a superpower capability in our personal domain. At the same time, the results and the productivity achieved at work will be enhanced due to higher speed of access to and deeper integration with the cloud applications and the sources of information.
Imagine an engineer, thinking about a needed change in the design of a part of a jet engine which caused an incident, modeling that in his or her brain – instead of doing so on a 3D modeling software installed on a desktop computer – sending the changed specifications in his mind to another solution which calculates the mechanical strength and other characteristics of the updated virtual model of that engine part – still in his mind instead of modeling that part by manually entering the information in another desktop computer software, getting the final results or eventual necessary corrections before ordering the 3D printer to print the first prototype of that improved part. And all this has been checked to comply with applicable norms and regulations behind the scene.
Lets get back onto the ground in 2020! Even without a functioning neuralink accessible to us today, there is a lot which has changed since a decade. Both in the personal but also the business sphere. We talk over internet from our mobile or wearable devices, we communicate via text, audio, or video messages and motional elements such as face gestures on memoji’s using the same devices. We order food, clothing and everything else via the same devices. We listen to music or news using them or do meditation or measure our vital health parameters. We look for our old and new friends or partner there. We find our way, look for a job, do our banking, and search for information about a new car or a house or whatever you can imagine in there. The only missing link is to put their touch screen into our brains which somebody is busy to make it happen!
Automation and Digitalization in the business sphere on the other hand, is nothing new. We have more than half a century of history using high-tech automation and digitalization in the industrial domain starting from automated production followed by automated distribution and sales. The last two decades has been bringing the automation and digitalization closer to the consumers even sometimes removing the need for a shop to be having cashiers and soon shopkeepers.
See what is happening. The importance of production remains. We still need to eat food and wear cloths. But the process to produce and deliver them is getting less and less dependent of non-producing players in the value chain. Think of a cashier-less supermarket where the need for physical sales interaction and the personnel related to it are gone. Think of online supermarket where the need for a physical store and personnel in there is gone. You can search online to find much more examples like these or use your imagination to come up with examples of your own.
My claim is that the economies of future will be more and more back to be based on satisfying the basic needs of us as humans in a more local or regional but customized and automated way. Whatever process which is not essential in producing and delivering the products in such an economy, will be removed or automated.
We will see more attention to the quality of what is satisfying our basic needs. It is already more than a decade where slow food, healthy eating and healthy and mindful lifestyle being good businesses. We already see increased attention to environment footprint as well as animal welfare in our food chain and also more people moving to vegetarian or vegan diets. We will see more of this with local or regional production and consumption as one of the ways to ensure more suitable and sustainable products. Although this seems to be a slower trend and not able to provide food for soon nine billion people, but the direction is there at least or in the beginning in the more privileged parts of our planet. This trend will remove the need for a wide range of services such as long range logistics and distribution for some of our supply chains, replacing them with local or regional production powered by digital automation of business processes removing unnecessary processes and businesses in the value chain.
You can also look into what is happening with transportation. Take cars as an example. It has not even been two centuries since we have combustion engine cars. within this relatively short period of time compared to modern human’s history, we have moved from the original combustion engine cars to super modern ones followed by electric ones which are soon driving completely for themselves; they are simply computers on wheels, as some say. On the business model side of transportation with cars, we have moved from owning cars by only wealthy families to selling cars to mass population followed by rental cars, lease cars, car sharing, ride sharing and flexible ownership models – such as new offers from Volvo – which is moving the concept of owning a car to a ride on demand service in your desired car’s comfort. This evolution in both the hardware and the service model side of transportation has been primarily possible through software sitting both inside and around the modern cars which will also remove the need for many different players and businesses – first example being driving schools followed by others – in this ecosystem in the future.
This list continues as you can think of any sector and you will definitely find the footprint of software, automation and digitalization in there.
There are people in favor of all this automation and digitalization. There are also who are strongly against it. Automation and Digitalization are a great way to bring what we enjoy to more in the world, giving them access to food, health, education, and more. At the same time, automation and digitalization can result in losing employment opportunities as jobs of the past being replaced by the machines and software of the future. But if you think about it, today is neither of the two or a combination of both. We have industries in which there is a very limited amount of automation and digitalization, while in others, we are close to full automation, removing the need for our interaction with the machines to have things functioning. Examples range from Robotic stock trading software to fully automated metro systems of a whole city, removing the need for traders and train drivers and many other professions of the past.
Moreover, the point about sustainability plays a significant role in this dilemma. Some of the automation can reduce waste. Digitalization can result in for example, less use of papers or in a reduced need for physical business travels. But in some other cases, increased digitalization results in increased energy consumption due to for example, need for more and more data centers consuming vast amounts of energy.
The social and political systems of every country, region, and also global fora are the places in order to debate and find the best balance going forward. At the same time, businesses need to be conscious and sensitive to the impact of their decisions. Being it impacts on the local as well as the global employment market, the society and how it functions, or the environmental consequences of such decisions. Small and medium-size businesses are also part of such a socio-economic ecosystem. However, their challenge is on a different scale.
As I am writing this article, the world is struggling with the second wave of coronavirus and its impact on our societies and businesses. Automation and digitalization can help creating resilience for the existing businesses in these difficult times. Moreover, knowledge about what digitalization and automation, gives people and existing and future entrepreneurs insights into what they can achieve through different means and infrastructure than they may have been learning all their lives. It also prevents people from entering into traditional business models while they have alternative ones giving them more for less.
Irrespective of what side you take, it is for sure that creating an online arm for your business or bringing your business totally online through Automation and Digitalization of your Business Processes, can create growth in all times and resilience in difficult times. The world is in a fast mode towards digitalizing what is possible to be digitalized. This will impact our private lives as well as our businesses and societies. The start of this trend has already been pushing many companies and industries out of the economical equations of our today world. Hence it is crucial to take this trend seriously and address it both as a threat and also an opportunity at operational, tactical and strategic levels.
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