Remote working: cloud computing vs. edge computing
Cloud computing isn’t exactly a new concept. Its benefits are well known in the business world and without it we wouldn’t have a large number of services that companies of all sizes rely on today. It’s no surprise then that 85 percent of companies believe cloud adoption is necessary for innovation. However, it is during the current Covid-19 crisis that cloud has really come into its own, enabling millions of companies around the world to continue to operate whilst almost all their workforce logs on from home.
Newer concepts like edge computing are regularly discussed alongside the cloud, often as if they are each exclusive approaches to infrastructure. However, using one does not eliminate the ability to use the other. Some people also believe that edge computing will eventually replace traditional cloud computing, however, this isn’t the case. Both technologies have important and distinguishable roles within an IT ecosystem.
That being said, there are use cases where edge computing has advantages over traditional centralised cloud infrastructure, especially during this unprecedented increase in remote working, including overcoming latency issues, operational strain and security. So, what do these advantages look like?
Reducing operational strain
When comparing traditional cloud computing and edge computing, the main difference is how and where data processing takes place. With cloud, data is stored and processed in a central location (usually a data centre), whereas edge computing refers to data processing nearer the source.
We already live in a data-rich world with the proliferation of new technologies such as IoT, 5G, wearables and assisted reality (AR) creating vast amounts of data that is generated close to the user or at the edge of the network. Remote working only adds to this as more and more devices try to access company networks outside of the central locations like offices. The cloud itself has significant compute and storage capabilities, however, with such strain on network bandwidth, it requires a different type of infrastructure – this is where edge computing comes in.
Completely overhauling infrastructure to cope with this demand can be expensive and resource heavy for businesses. With edge computing, you don’t need to “rip and replace” infrastructure. Edge computing allows companies to resolve this challenge as processing data at the edge reduces strain on the cloud. In conjunction with edge data centres, edge computing can tackle more localised data processing, freeing up the cloud for more general-purpose business needs, and helping applications perform faster.
Advantage two: latency
With the nature of the cloud, information is relayed back to the data centre, processed, and then sent back to the edge of the network where the device is. This can take time for data to travel back and forth and can cause lag or latency. In many use cases, where the need to process data is not time-efficient, the cloud offers lots of processing power, storage, and large-scale data analysis. However, in some cases such latency can cause challenges for remote workers. For example, during the Covid-19 crisis employees have heavily depended on video conferencing and this relies on real-time connectivity.
The former example of an office worker is perhaps not mission-critical, however, network-related issue latency can have a more detrimental effect for a different kind of remote worker – those working as a frontline or field worker. For example, imagine a staff member working in a warehouse using the “pick-by-vision” setting on AR smart glasses they are wearing to assist them with manual order picking, sorting, inventory management, goods receipts and removal processes. If latency occurs during this process, and the worker receives delayed information, this can significantly impede their productivity and even cause ongoing fulfilment errors, which will inevitably affect a company’s bottom line. Edge computing offers a solution to this by relocating data processing closer to the device at the edge of the network, eliminating latency and therefore reducing incidences of network lag related failure.
Advantage three: security and privacy
As more people are working away from the office there is an increase in data being accessed remotely. Increased incidences of remote access give cyber criminals a greater opportunity to access company data and misuse the information within. With edge computing, data is filtered and processed locally, rather than sending it to a central data centre, before being sent to the organisation’s network core via the cloud. If there is less transfer of sensitive data between devices and the cloud, this means better security for business and their customers.
COVID-19 has no doubt altered the working landscape which had meant business leaders had to rethink their remote working strategies. During this period, the cloud has allowed for data to be shared across organisations securely. However, as discussed, there are instances where edge computing can help to ease bandwidth, increase network speeds, and combat security concerns. Choosing edge or cloud computing isn’t an either/or proposition, both technologies have different purposes and uses and will continue to have important roles for the foreseeable future. As remote working becomes the new norm for businesses, it is predictable that the future network infrastructure will combine the two.
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.”