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INTERVIEW: Business Automation in the Era of Industry 4.0. How to maintain the continuity of business operations during the crisis?

9 July 2020

Photo: Michał Krzesiak, COO, 3Soft

Michał Krzesiak, COO, 3Soft

What does Business Automation really mean for Industry 4.0?

In the era of Industry 4.0, Business Automation (BA) means the possibility of optimizing processes from a wider perspective – the perspective of the whole company – but on the basis of very detailed, concrete data and parameters. Due to the new approach to BA, the role of man in the production process is moving from operational to strategic functions.

3Soft designs and launches IT platforms that make it possible to collect, process and analyze large data sets. I understand this class of solutions as modern Business Automation. Multi-level platforms allow not only to correlate data coming from different sources, but also to use the full potential of solutions based on Artificial Intelligence.

In the past, decisions were made on the basis of expert knowledge, fragmented information on particular elements of the process and on employees’ intuition supported by their many years of experience. Today, decisions can be made based on objective data that refer to entire production or business processes. Knowledge and experience are transferred from humans to systems.

In the past, decisions were made on the basis of expert knowledge, fragmented information on particular elements of the process and on employees’ intuition supported by their many years of experience. Today, decisions can be made based on objective data that refer to entire production or business processes. Knowledge and experience are transferred from humans to systems. This becomes particularly important in the current situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo: Business Automation, Industry

Does this mean that Artificial Intelligence can help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic?

It definitely can. The pandemic has changed the way we work. Suddenly, it forced us to restrict human contact, to reduce the number of people staying in one room or to perform our tasks from home office. I believe that Artificial Intelligence can help businesses cope with these new challenges. It will allow some of the work which has so far been performed by humans to be done by advanced systems. The number of employees involved in a process will decrease significantly.

Is Artificial Intelligence a threat to employees and will they soon be replaced by algorithms?

I don’t think so, because new jobs will appear. Operational functions will be replaced by strategic functions. For me, exploiting the full potential of Business Automation means finding a balance between technology and more efficient allocation of human resources. In the case of complex and dangerous production processes, the participation of Artificial Intelligence can even be a godsend for employees.

As an example, I will refer to a project that 3Soft is implementing together with a leading provider of machine vision systems for the nuclear industry. The dedicated software, based on Machine Learning and Data Science, automates the process of detecting damage and deviations of fuel rod bundles in nuclear reactors so that inspections can be performed without putting human health at risk. Specialized machine vision systems along with the software developed by 3Soft are used in dozens of nuclear power plants, in 20 countries worldwide. Without technological support, achieving a level of detail this high would not have been possible.

What is the difference between the traditional automation model and the modern approach?

Business Automation is not a new concept. In the era of the third industrial revolution, automation meant being able to control machines with the support of software. So only part of the processes were automated. In the final phases, it was always the man who integrated these processes and made decisions. By the way, the decisions were made on the basis on incomplete data.

Thanks to modern methods of data management, it is possible to analyze all data simultaneously, without having to rely only on fragmentary information. Automation responding to modern business challenges is also the integration of the virtual world with the real world, resulting in access to new data sources.

The modern approach allows moving to a higher level – full automation – where the experience and know-how of personnel is replaced by advanced algorithms based on Artificial Intelligence. Thanks to modern methods of data management, it is possible to analyze all data simultaneously, without having to rely only on fragmentary information. Automation responding to modern business challenges is also the integration of the virtual world with the real world, resulting in access to new data sources. A holistic approach to data acquisition and analysis makes it possible to automate global processes in the enterprise.

What are the benefits of this modern, holistic approach to Business Automation?

There is much talk today about sustainable industrial development. I think business process automation can answer questions about how to use resources in an optimal way.

Business Automation is also a solution to the ever-increasing customer requirements related to the rate and quality of production.

What to do when there is a shortage of experienced personnel? The answer can be BA, where expert knowledge gathered in the systems can suggest the best solutions to less experienced employees and inform them about upcoming threats through possible breakdowns or quality reductions.

Another benefit I see is the transfer of know-how about production and business processes from humans to systems. Transferring an assembly line from one continent to another is no problem. However, efficient production requires competent staff who are able to carry out complex processes based on years of experience. What to do when there is a shortage of experienced personnel? The answer can be BA, where expert knowledge gathered in the systems can suggest the best solutions to less experienced employees and inform them about upcoming threats through possible breakdowns or quality reductions. By analyzing the effectiveness of individual solutions, we can investigate which solutions have worked best and easily implement them in other areas.

Additionally, it is much easier to control the quality of automated processes. During the design of a BA system, KPIs are defined to measure the quality of a given process. The required quality can be monitored on an ongoing basis and decisions about possible changes can be made quickly. The situation is completely different for non-automated processes. The quality of such processes is based on the competence and experience of an individual person.

BA is also about freeing employees from having to perform monotonous, repetitive activities. This gives them more time for creative and strategic thinking.

 

What factors should be taken into account when introducing business process automation into an organization?

Factors to be taken into account are the company’s scale of operations and prospects for development. Automated processes can be easily and quickly scaled up. The alternative is to recruit and train employees, which takes time and energy. The availability of qualified staff can therefore become a serious barrier to the development of the enterprise. In this situation automation becomes a necessity.

 

So how to effectively automate processes in companies?

Processes vary in different organizations, so it is important to understand their specific nature and describe them accurately. At 3Soft, we always start work with clients on the implementation of Business Automation by holding cross-departmental workshops with representatives of different departments of their company. First of all, we set business goals that we would like to achieve through automation. Then we carefully analyze all processes, their nature, dependencies and key factors that affect the final business result. Only after establishing these dependencies do we consider which processes are worth automating and how to combine data from different sources so that their analysis can support the set business goals. At the very end, we define measures that allow us to verify the quality of the processes. I think that this approach is the best way to success.