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The evolution of automation in an oversupplied market

Content sponsored by the IAG (Independent Automation Group)

This summer passed slowly, decision-makers have returned to their jobs, and the business season is beginning. After nearly a year and a half of confinement, we are slowly starting to return to normal conditions, as far as average life is concerned. However, for many managers, the summer of 2021 was an extraordinary success. The market transformations caused by COVID-19 needed to be addressed with new strategies, and summer was the perfect time to set them up or, for more dynamic companies, to finalise new paths. From October, the implementation of the strategy will be the focus for most companies, so it is no wonder that automation is one of today’s hottest topics.

Professional evolution

According to the traditional view, the preparation of a business strategy is the first step for a company to come to life, or for an existing business to redefine itself to fit market expectations. Strategy-makers have learned a lot in recent decades and know exactly that IT and HR are areas that must be included in the early stages of strategy-making to achieve results. Across sectors, automation is emerging as a tool for implementing strategy, as it can provide a smooth operating environment and the opportunity to reduce human costs or make more efficient use of them. Several economic sectors have already discovered the importance of this, which explains why the automation and digitisation of industrial processes dubbed “Industry 4.0” is so popular. Interestingly, however, automation itself is not new to business, but business decision-makers still do not understand its development, diversity, and subfields. Many times, in the absence of this knowledge, strategic business directions or a specific business decision are born, after which the appropriate level of cost-effectiveness is no longer feasible. For a long time, automation was interpreted as an IT/OT solution among managers, or decision-makers were associated with process organisation. The next step was to combine the two and expect increasingly complex solutions from automation companies, and they met these expectations. Like all professions, automation has an evolution, during which new directions unfold, sub-areas are created, and the whole operation becomes more complex. This profession has also developed, beautifully, quietly, and if COVID does not bring to the surface the challenges and shortcomings of automation, industry experts will bring value.

It is a strategic issue

They say in business, the evolutionary pinnacle of a particular professional field is consulting. When a profession starts, it focuses on specific products and services. Then, in the next phase, it not only sells the specific, usually physically tangible product, but also provides professional knowledge and assistance. That is, if someone buys a system, for example, they receive good advice, and if something goes wrong, they get customer service. Then each profession reaches a level where one no longer has to specify what the buyer wants, but instead, they focus on a specific challenge and provide a complex solution on the sales side. Most professions stop at this point because there is no need for extra knowledge to maintain their position in the market. There is no special need on the buyer side, or the seller side is not proactive enough to create new needs. However, there are professions where customers no longer set expectations. They simply have a business goal; they want to achieve it and show that they can contribute organically to that particular profession. In this case, we are already talking about complex strategic consulting, which does not distribute good advice for use, does not help to correct mistakes, but compiles the concept at the strategic level, the end of which is a concrete, measurable business result. Well, there are already some players in the automation market who have reached this level. Automation processes and proposals are built focusing on business goals. They can talk about revenue and profit; they don’t stop at the machine’s efficiency or the management of its replacement. That is why the level of decision-making related to automation has also risen higher up the company pyramid on the customer side. While traditionally the purchasing department, or just a specific manufacturing group, dealt with the issue, automation strategy issues now land with either the top decision-maker or on the desk of their right-hand person.

The evolution of automation has accelerated due to the pandemic, as all sectors have seen that predictable, stable business operations no longer work today without automation. Of course, the top decision-makers – at least the really good managers – won’t deal with the practical details, and they still don’t go into the issue of, say, “fleet orders”. On the other hand, companies representing automation at a strategic level are increasingly involved in strategic development. There still aren’t many of these in the world, as businesses traditionally built on engineers only design and build, some at a higher level and some at a lower level. There are still very few professionals who are business-minded, understand the business, and can translate it into automation processes. This is also due to the fact that the automation strategic consulting market is currently quite in demand. And it is the responsibility of this profession to accommodate future demand.