Business process automation (BPA) is, in a word, transformative. However, transformation has its upsides and its downsides. The recession challenged businesses to make do with less, and many decided to do with fewer employees. Unfortunately, in the case where employees were retained, the BPA not only replaced routine work, it also removed the human element from decision-making processes.
The Light Side of BPA
This, according to TechRepublic’s Mary Shacklett, is understandable from a managerial perspective. BPA can eliminate human error and cut costs significantly. She cites the use of fraud detection systems for banking, robots that pull inventory items from warehouse shelves, BA dashboards that track delivery trucks, and automated call systems that require no human responder. But Shacklett goes on to ask—how much business automation is too much?
The Dark Side of BPA
As a banking executive, she witnessed firsthand how automation can have near-catastrophic consequence in an emergency. A central system failure caused employees to have to go back to using manual ledgers, and many were incapable of making loans without automated decision systems. What about retail employees who can’t manually key in price codes or customers who get lost in the labyrinth of automated phone trees?
The danger of going too far with BPA is in its potential to condition employees into mentally lethargic behavior. Then, when a business exception comes around, or a smart analytics report delivers data that fails to synchronize with what is really happening, there is no one there to think through the situation on his own.
A smart executive knows how to integrate intelligent teams of employees into the fabric of machine automation. While leaving the human element out of the equation puts science fiction into practice to rescue profits, it puts the employee in a position of disengagement.