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6 common automation obstacles and how to get passed them

Industry 4.0, also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is creating drastic changes in virtually every industry. The manufacturing industries are no exception. You probably know that you need to automate and implement new technology sooner or later and you have probably already done so when it comes to your production. When it's time to automate further, it's easy to stare blindly at all the obstacles you will encounter along the way and struggle to know where to begin.

We know that change is scary. Especially when it comes to handing over control to something as abstract as Artificial Intelligence.  But we also know that the companies that dare to embrace the new technology have the best chance of remaining competitive. Let's go through 6 common obstacles to automation and how you can get past them.

1. How do we bring important decision-makers with us on the automation journey?

This is probably the first obstacle you will encounter, and it is also one of the most important hurdles to overcome. Without getting approval from important decision-makers in a company's management team, you will not be able to move forward. In order to convince the management team that you should invest in digitalization and automation, it can help to present positive case studies from other companies. By showing how other, similar companies have managed to save money and increase productivity through automation, you paint a picture of what results are possible and how these results make a real difference to the bottom line. Feel free to emphasize that relatively small investments can quickly result in a high Return on Investment (ROI). By investing in so-called "quick wins", you can easily demonstrate meaningful results and create a positive attitude towards automation among your most important decision-makers.

2. How can we automate without compromising our IT security?

Address the IT security issue as early as possible with potential system vendors to ensure that their systems are compatible with your existing systems. It may also be necessary to recruit additional skills in IT security, or alternatively train existing employees in the IT department in automation.

In addition, there is great potential for automation within the scope of IT security. According to a study among IT security staff conducted by Juniper Research, 70% of those surveyed thought that automation was very important for the company's strategies around IT security. In the same study, however, 63% answered that it was difficult to implement automation of IT security in existing so-called "legacy systems".

3. How do we know we are automating the right processes?

Once you have been given the go-ahead to start with automation, it is time to choose which processes to automate. If you have not already documented and mapped out your processes, this is where you start before moving on to identify your biggest pain points in the processes. Then go ahead and identify the low-hanging fruit – the steps that you can easily automate to yield an immediate and noticeable difference. By prioritizing efforts that have a high ROI, you can achieve concrete results relatively quickly that can then be shown internally. By showing that automation works and results in something meaningful, you can increase the understanding of the investments of both decision-makers and employees.  

What characterizes a process that is well suited for automation? Look for processes that have the following:

  • A high degree of manual handling
  • Large volumes that need to be handled
  • Clear business rules
  • A low degree of exceptions and errors
  • Relatively structured data entered

If the process fits in with many of the points above there’s a good chance that it can be automated.

4. How do we convince our employees that their jobs will not be automated away?

The word ‘automation’ can be sensitive among employees, especially for those who work across the processes you are considering automating. There may be a concern that your investment in automation threatens their jobs, so it is important to handle this topic sensitively and directly. It is important to have an open dialogue with your employees and keep them informed so that you can promote cooperation instead of resistance among them. Discuss how automation can simplify their jobs so they can spend time on other, more value-creating tasks. Emphasize that you want to keep them as employees and discuss opportunities that may be relevant within the organization. It can also be a good idea to offer additional in-house training for those who are interested.  

5. How should we evaluate and measure the results of automation?

Setting goals linked to your implementation of automation is important for you to be able to evaluate the investment that you have made. But do not be content with simple financial returns – go one step further and decide which other key metrics you should link to the goals, for example, time spent per week on the process, man hours released by automation. Then decide how often these should be followed up, and make sure to really do regular follow-ups. Choose initiatives that are relatively easy to measure the results of, especially in the beginning – to be able to make the results visible internally and promote a positive attitude towards automation. Keep in mind that it may take some time before you can see any results.

6. How do we secure the skills needed for automation?

Increased efficiency is one of the benefits of automation. To create the best possible conditions, you should consider investing in in-house training for your employees so that they not only learn how to use the new technology effectively, but also make them more comfortable and familiar with it.

Investigate what training your system provider can offer. Also, be sure to choose a system vendor with good customer service that is available for inquiries. You can also empower some employees by appointing them as ambassadors for the new automated processes. These employees would then be available to other staff who want to learn about automation. Ambassadors should be genuinely interested in the new technology and willing to share their knowledge with others.

Do not try to do everything at once

One last recommendation from us is simply that you do not try to do everything at once. For example, it is not a good idea to replace your ERP system while reviewing your processes as well as trying to automate them. Start instead on a smaller scale. Choose one or two low-hanging fruits that you focus on finishing first. The result of these small investments will then create a ripple effect within the organization and give you good conditions for your continued automation work. Read more about it in our articles Mapping your business processes – what's it good for? and Mapping your business processes – step by step.

You can also read more about automation here.

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