The Current Business Environment
The current business environment in Australia demands that businesses need to continuously reduce the costs of running their businesses. They are trying to do more with less. This could be because of the increase in workloads due to their growth or increase of guideline activities, such as third-party reporting to the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
Businesses are limited due to the fact that they can only control what they can measure and manage. Therefor how businesses perform their internal administration functions is an area they can focus on and there by save costs of operating the business.
To fill this need there has been a growth in software computerisation of back office processes. This has included mechanisation for functions such as accountancy, account payable, accounts receivable, payroll services and process work flows.
Impacts of the Issue
In terms of savings from this economically there are factors such as lowering running costs due to technology replacing people doing manual and tedious work to take into compared to the costs of employment of lower skilled people to do that work. Another factor includes the reduced paper usage with software applications as it is all done via technology.
However, when it comes to the issues that come from the use of technology in businesses it tends to be around factors such as costs of implementing IT systems, project team and so on. Another cost that has to be accounted for is that of paying for the running of the equipment and hardware as well as buying licenses for software. There will also be the increased staff cost to manage the IT systems when the systems require attention or maintenance.
Another aspect of automation is being able to determine when it becomes enough? From an economic perspective the answer would have to be when it stops proving to be cost efficient. As there are always new types of technology being introduced to meet the ever-changing requirements and provide more and more efficiencies, it is likely that automation will be evolving and improving for a long time to come.
Automating working practices can be seen as a double edge sword from a sociological perspective. On the one had if it’s usually very effective in helping a business stay in business then for those still employed there is an income and with that income they can then spend that money and assist in the economic growth of their community.
This is an example trickledown economics on a local scale. But there is growing evidence that trickledown economics does not work
The sales pitch of technology being used more frequently in businesses is that automation will remove the need to people to do day to day and tedious tasks and instead giving them the time to be able to focus on the more strategic tasks. The reality in most cases is that the people heavily involved in doing the mundane tasks are not the same people who would be doing the strategic work of the business. As a result of this the other edge of the sword of automation is that in many cases the introduction of automation is seen as a way of reducing staff costs instead of allowing companies to process with transactions with the staff they have.
The people who are the most likely to be losing their jobs to automation are those least educated and skilled. With more and more automation being introduced where are these people going to find meaningful work that pays a living wage. This too has a trickle down impact for societies.
Also, to take into consideration is the impact of denying these jobs to the young and new workers in society. Many successful people started their working lives performing manual and tedious work. Such task are a foundation to work experience, attaining business knowledge and a motivator for self-improvement. From these experiences many people have learnt to understand a business from the ground up. If such jobs are no longer available for school leavers then this will lead to increased unemployment and loss of achieving potential for many people in society.
There are several aspects to the ethical considerations of introducing automation to the workplace. These include but are not limited to, the changes to the employment landscape and social implications as mentioned above, If automated processes provide the ability to make business strategic decisions (such as buying or selling shares or selecting candidates for job interviews) then what ethical considerations will be included or excluded. This also poses the question of if ethical factors should be enforced in automated systems.
Most office computerized systems are used for things such as storage of digital documents and capturing of approvals through digital signatures. This has led to a significant reduction in the amount of documents that are required to be printed. This saves on paper, ink, the plastic of the ink cartridges and the electricity to run the printer.
On the other side there is the environmental impact of the powering the IT systems that provide the automation.
Due to the large amounts of variables there is not a definitive study that shows is the net impact of automation is positive or negative for the environment. That said there is a strong argument that it has a positive impact overall Conclusion
The economic drivers that are encouraging business large and small to investigate and invest in automation are not going to go away and are arguably only going to increase. As a result, automation will continue to have an increasing role in the way that businesses operate for an extremely long time.
For small to medium sized business the main and probably only question about automation will be will it make running my business cheaper. Other questions that academics, governments and possibly large businesses are already asking include what the impacts are to the environment, society and the ethics of business.
In conclusion the design, implementation and management of business automation systems not only meets the need for every increasing business efficiency target but also looks like a very promising line of work for employment.