How to prepare a business for an Industry 4.0 network
The first industrial revolution was based on the use of steam to power machines. The second centred on the use of electricity to supply energy to assembly lines. The third came about with the use of electronics and IT to further automate production.
But all of that is in the past. We are now in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, known as Industry 4.0, in which the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to overhaul not only business, but also every aspect of modern life. From cars, washing machines, and even clothing, to heart monitors and dams, anything and everything will soon be connected.
As a result, the Industry 4.0 phenomenon is expected to revolutionise all areas within the manufacturing space, connecting all the elements that take part in the production process within the industrial environment: machines, products, systems, and people. The IoT will make today’s organisations more competitive by enabling them to further automate manufacturing processes, and collect and analyse data which they can then use to tailor their products to specific client needs.
In order to get the most out of this agile transformation, today’s companies will not only need to embrace the cloud. They will need to invest in a robust data security environment, and analyse their existing IT infrastructure to ensure it meets their IoT needs. Ensuring their network, branch and remote sites have a strong foundation and that they have in place a solid visibility strategy is the best place to start.
Taking a good look at network architectures
Organisations can only implement digital technologies successfully if their network is flexible and agile. This might be easier said than done, as smart factories – where there is an increasing number of connected objects creating billions of new end points, and transmitting information and interacting with applications – are already struggling to stay in control of inflexible, complex networks.
Many are storing information in the cloud as well as on local systems – generating what are known as hybrid environments – putting an incredible strain on the network, which traditional networking technologies are not designed to handle.
In response, many organisations are taking a new approach and are opting for the use of Software-Defined-WAN, or SD-WAN networks, which offer them the ability to make on-the-fly adjustments to their network’s performance and application delivery, and meet the business’ ever-changing needs. SD-WAN also enables organisations to direct traffic and deploy network services across a WAN from a centralised location. Ultimately, this translates into reduced costs and operational complexity; and increased optimisation to deliver superior-performing apps and experiences to users.
Addressing issues in the branch
At the core of any manufacturing business are branch offices and manufacturing sites. Often operating as independent data centres which are difficult to support and protect, these sites often fall victim to services outages and data loss which lead to a range of productivity issues including assembly-line stoppage, missed sales opportunities, customer churn, and ultimately, lost revenues.
Getting these remote sites up and running requires significant IT investments. In fact, Riverbed found that branch offices represent 50 percent of an average company’s total IT budget. However, with half of today’s IT organisations using outdated methods of operation, businesses are finding it difficult to address pain points that impact overall business agility and performance. New IT services take longer to provision. Data loss is a greater threat when it’s stored outside the secure data centre. And, when something goes wrong, it’s difficult to recover data and restore business operations.
As an alternative, implementing technologies designed specifically for the management of branch IT allows organisations’ IT teams to virtualise and consolidate 100 percent of data and servers from remote sites into data centres, centralising data security and IT management without losing the benefits of running branch services locally. Additionally, new tools offer instant provisioning and recovery, providing complete security and visibility into the network, improving data security, business continuity, agility, and operational efficiency – the foundations of a solid transformation.
Paving the way for optimal performance
Industry 4.0 is set to change the way industries produce and consume products, boosting manufacturers’ productivity worldwide. However, with apps, devices, and data anywhere and everywhere, it will also bring increased complexity across networks. There will necessarily be an increasing number of blind spots in the application delivery chain which could ultimately affect product delivery processes and companies’ bottom lines.
As organisations begin to embrace the cloud, establishing the ability to deploy new apps and services on-the-fly – as well as get new sites up and running quickly – are essential to ensuring the level of agility and performance digital transformation demands. Delivering great app and network performance is one of the keys to doing this, as well as to succeeding in an increasingly competitive and changing marketplace.
By Joe Bombagi, Director, SteelFusion, EMEA & APJ, Riverbed Technology.
Read the August 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”