Doing Automation Right

By Samuel Greengard

One thing you can count on in the business world is that any opportunity to automate processes will be pursued with reckless abandon. In the quest to stay competitive and save money, anything resembling a button, click or tap won’t go unused or unexplored.

Automated processes are here to stay. And in some cases, the technology actually benefits everyone. A company trims labor costs and customers accomplish tasks faster and better.

Or so it seems. This week, the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, Calif., announced that it plans to use robots to deliver towels, water bottles, toothbrushes and other items to guests. The robots, dubbed ALO, will use Wi-Fi, sonar, lasers and cameras to navigate through corridors and elevators.

CBS News quoted the hotel’s CEO, Steve Cousins, as saying, “It’s something that’s very Silicon Valley. It’s very novel and I think it’s the future.”

I have no doubt it’s the future. Robots, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are advancing crazy fast. Almost everything will probably be automated in 50 or 100 years. I also have no doubt that a boutique hotel with robots could appeal to propeller heads and hipsters.

But, as banks, retailers and other businesses are learning, too much automation is not a good thing. Customers require some human interaction and ignoring this basic fact diminishes long-term prospects—and results. While ATMs, self-service Websites and mobile apps make it easy to accomplish tasks without human interaction, there’s the more important objective of establishing a long-term relationship, which typically leads to a more profitable and successful business.

Consequently, some financial institutions are now looking for ways to bring customers into branches—at least occasionally—to speak with bankers and better match products and services with their needs.

An even bigger problem is customer service, which has deteriorated into a black hole of ineptitude at many companies. Knowledge bases don’t work, emails go unanswered and Websites are farcically useless. Employees read scripts and problems don’t get solved. Too often, it’s automation gone wrong.

The point? CIOs should pursue automation as a way to improve processes and workflows. However, at the same time, it’s critical to stay focused on the big picture: building relationships with customers. In the end, this means relying on the right blend of technology and people to deliver the best possible results in the best possible way at every touch point.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “3D Printing Goes Prime Time,” click here.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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