Automation in business during the pandemic

By Denise De Gaetano

Regardless of the impact of automation on jobs in the future, it is instructive to examine the effect it is currently having during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In today’s uncertain economic environment, some people argue that companies will accelerate the implementation of automation to meet the challenges of the pandemic. As the pandemic
continues, the age-old debate about whether automation creates or kills jobs takes a new turn. The nature of automation is changing rapidly and job destruction is not necessarily guaranteed.
If we look at examples from the past, such as the Industrial Revolution, technology led to job destruction but ultimately created new jobs overall.

Imagine a data engineer using a data management platform to automate a migration to the cloud. This type of automation removes tons of busy work from her plate and frees her to focus on critical tasks that require her expertise. The situation is different from previous forms of automation, where machines completely replaced auto assembly workers. That was the automation debate before the pandemic just a few months ago.

Since then, the nature of work has changed dramatically, perhaps forever, causing many people to re-evaluate the future of automation. Despite all the job-killing rhetoric, automation is
actually helping workers stay safe and efficient during the pandemic.

Automation is fundamentally about removing human beings from work processes. This creates efficiency gains under normal circumstances, but with COVID-19, this erasure of human touchpoints also improves safety. Automation can spare workers, especially frontline officers – including grocery store staff, nurses, hospital secretaries, and police officers – from additional human contact.

Automatic payments, machine-learning-based medical imaging, automated intake forms, and AI-based identity detection can all limit human contact and prevent the spread of the virus. The
efficiency gains generated by automation also take on new importance during COVID-19. Imagine a doctor stuck in his office filling out insurance forms. An automated computer vision
program could scan these documents, extract the data and generate complete insurance files. It allows the doctor to do what he does best: treat patients.

Automation can also reduce costly human errors. For example, the automation of control systems can reduce medical interpretation errors in overcrowded hospitals. Ultimately, the amount of work interruption could depend on the virus itself. If a vaccine is ready at the end of the year, companies may not rush to automation. If the virus continues to drag on until 2022, automation could become more attractive.

For most small businesses, automation will be an unmanageable expense; large companies are more likely to invest in this new infrastructure. No one can predict the future for sure, but we can see what automation means right now. It’s true that many jobs are ‘exposed’ to elimination, but one of the main impacts of automation during the pandemic is to make roles safer and more efficient. Only time will tell if the automation disruption during the pandemic is significant, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case in the future.

Denise De Gaetano

Denise De Gaetano has worked with a number of different companies, ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, providing deep insight in various aspects of Business, Marketing analytics and strategies, together with A.I. and Blockchain technology implementation for various aspects of the business. Her work and input has helped companies generated and build 1.5 B + in funding, venture capital and revenue. She is a data and business analyst with a strong background in helping various companies to obtain corporate growth objective by providing strategic direction, diverse perspectives, and positive leadership. She has a proven track record in leading complex improvement initiatives and applying solid technical, research and analytical abilities.