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Automation as a force for good

Mention automation and invariably, it arouses a tinge of automation anxiety in some people. Robots are going to replace and displace us from our jobs, or so they claim.


The truth, though, is much more nuanced. Let’s consider the humble telephone switchboard for example.


Telephone switchboard operators doing their work


In the late 19th and early 20th century, manual switchboards were used to connect telephone circuits so as to establish telephone calls between users or other switchboards. Fun fact: The early switchboard operators were young men, but they were quickly replaced by women who had a much better work attitude, in addition to a sweet voice. This generated some of the most “high-tech” jobs of that era, certainly within the telecommunications industry which exclusively hired men for technical roles.


Nonetheless, with the proliferation and increasing ubiquity of the telephone, the manual switchboard operations became increasingly unsustainable. For example, by 1909, Bell Telephone System projected that every American women between ages 17 and 60 would have to work as a switchboard operator by the year 1925 if the manual system of handling calls were to be continued.


To paraphrase a popular saying, necessity is the mother of innovation. In this case, a clear process needs and demographic challenges meant that the first automatic switchboard was designed and put into service just a few years later.


Automated solution to the manual switchboard

Oh, and what happened to those switchboard operators? Well, they simply reskill and upskill (to borrow our modern terminology) to become telephone operators and receptionists.


The moral of the story is that as society advances and technology evolves, so do the jobs of the day. And automation can be a force for good if they are applied judiciously to address real pain points.


Back to the present, one such pressing challenge is the acute loss of employee productivity.


Do you know that employees are feeling increasingly disengaged at the workplace (and this is based on research pre-COVID) with a staggering 40% of employees surveyed reporting that they do not look forward to going to work in the morning?



Dig deeper, and it is not hard to see why. These employees spent on average more than 3 hours a day on manual, repetitive computer tasks. As a result, more than two-thirds struggled to finish work on time. And as you can imagine, some of the most hated tasks include data entry work, filing digital documents and generating reports from IT systems.


"Clearly the most unfortunate people are those who must do the same thing over and over again, every minute, or perhaps twenty to the minute. They deserve the shortest hours and the highest pay." - John Kenneth Galbraith

This is a tragedy of unfulfilled economic and human potential. In this digital age, employees are still burdened with what we call swivel-chair activities, extracting data from one system of records and manually keying into another.


Hence, it is my firm belief that automation, in this case Intelligent Automation or Robotic Process Automation, can help to deliver the triple-win, where shareholders, customers, and employees all benefit from automation.



After all, eliminating mundane, menial work results in far happier employees, who in turn provide better customer service and help the company generate more profits. For example, research has shown that companies with the most engaged employees were 22% more profitable than those with the least engaged employees.


If you share my vision of making work enjoyable and are interested in collaborating on the digital workforce of the future, get in touch with us!

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