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Posted 20th May 2024

The Importance of Human Oversight in Automated Processes

SME business owners and entrepreneurs in the UK are beginning to witness firsthand the true power of automation. Automating and streamlining various tasks that were traditionally human-led has unlocked a tremendous amount of potential, not to mention improved efficiency, productivity, and cost savings.

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the importance of human oversight in automated processes.

The Importance of Human Oversight in Automated Processes
Automated Business

SME business owners and entrepreneurs in the UK are beginning to witness firsthand the true power of automation. Automating and streamlining various tasks that were traditionally human-led has unlocked a tremendous amount of potential, not to mention improved efficiency, productivity, and cost savings.

Despite how transformative and evolutionary automation can be, as evidenced by the continued integration of generative artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, machine learning (ML), and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), it’s important to not view such solutions with rose-tinted glasses. A fundamental lesson to remember is that automation is – and should be viewed as – a tool, rather than a solve all solution. 

Automating many of your critical business processes without proper supervision or through blind faith can lead to costly mistakes, missed opportunities, cyber security risks and erroneous data, to name just a few. However, with careful oversight, you can unlock even more than you thought possible by leveraging game-changing technology. It can help you achieve and exceed your goals, retain a competitive edge, and grow your company.

The Allure of Business Automation Solutions

It would be naive to ignore the appeal of automation in business. If business owners could delegate time-consuming and routine tasks to software and machines, why wouldn’t they? Many SME owners would leap at the chance to free up their schedules – even slightly – and dedicate more resources to strategic, creative, and revenue-generating business activities while the – seemingly never-ending – mundane tasks could be taken care of in the background.

Automation has proven its worth in numerous areas, including (but not limited to):

  • Data entry, consolidation, and management with AI-powered aggregation software
  • Customer service and support with AI-generated chat and email responses to customer queries
  • Marketing and lead generation tasks such as email campaigns, social media text generation and post schedule management
  • Accounting and financial operations such as invoicing, account balancing, payroll and cash flow management.
  • Stock and inventory management for supply chain visibility

The time and cost savings achieved through automation can be substantial, providing SMEs with a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded and results-driven market.

The Risks of Unsupervised Automation

While the benefits of automation are undeniable, SMEs must recognise that automating their entire business processes comes with risks. Automation is not infallible, nor is it entirely foolproof. 

Automation systems are designed, programmed, and tested by humans, and as such, there could be underlying mistakes, biases, or errors that develop which cause a programme to fail to react to developing circumstances. Blindly trusting automated processes without proper supervision can lead to a range of potential issues depending on the extent of the programme’s integration, the level of data being processed, and how much information you are entrusting it to divulge.

For example, businesses are bound by strict regulations and guidelines surrounding finances and accounting. While automation can definitely help streamline manual accounting tasks, there is a risk of entrusting a piece of software to deliver payroll and submit tax returns that are compliant with HMRC if you don’t cast a watchful eye over their legitimacy. While cloud-based accounting software makes real-time payroll and expense management easier, only a human expert can verify the validity of any automatically aggregated data before it is sent to HMRC. Failing to do so could result in inaccurate filings and expose the business to penalties and late payment interest charges.

Any automated system relies on datasets, which, if they are flawed, incomplete, or inaccurate, means that any outputs will retain similar qualities. Without human supervision, errors can propagate and compound into larger-scale issues, and if there is no filter, there is a risk that decisions will be made based on false, misinformed, or inconclusive data. Businesses should ensure that all data processed through automation software is verified and valid before making informed decisions.

AI systems can often struggle to understand dialect, context, and linguistic nuances that humans can easily interpret. Customer service chatbots may fail to recognise emotive or language subtleties, meaning that interactions will feel ‘forced’ or unsatisfactory. This is where human agents can intervene and take over more complex queries. Remember that automated processes are implemented to follow predefined rules, algorithms, and commands, which can make them more inflexible and unable to adapt to developing situations. Humans can innately recognise when exceptions must be made or when processes must be adjusted.

Furthermore, automated systems can fail to recognise and be more vulnerable to cyber threats, ranging from malware and phishing campaigns to hacks and data breaches. Software may not always pick up malicious social engineering attempts to compromise systems and accounts, which is why it’s important to adopt a security-first mindset when deploying any automation programme that holds sensitive business or consumer data. 

Amplify Automation With Careful Human Supervision

To harness the real power of automation, the solution lies in striking the optimal balance between using software ethically and monitoring its effectiveness closely. This hybrid approach allows SMEs to reap all the tangible benefits of automation while mitigating most of the risks associated with unsupervised automated processes.

Here is how to cultivate a hybrid approach easily and decisively:

  1. Establish clear responsibilities and processes
    • It’s crucial to define clear and well-documented processes for automated tasks, including decision points where human oversight is required. Assign specific roles and responsibilities for overseeing automated processes and monitoring quality.
  1. Regularly quality-check and audit automation solutions
    • Schedule regular audits and quality checks to identify potential issues or discrepancies in your automation solutions. Conduct comparative analyses or pilot tests to evaluate their effectiveness, using clear metrics to measure accuracy and what could be improved. Regularly scour open-source libraries to determine if other, more effective solutions exist.
  1. Define clear escalation and intervention procedures
    • Establish procedures for identifying and handling exceptions or cases that automation cannot adequately solve. Protocols for situations that require human intervention and action will be vital when they arise.
  1. Continuously improve, refine, and adapt
    • Regularly review and update processes to ensure they align with changing business needs, regulatory requirements, and industry best practices. Encourage feedback from employees and customers to identify improvement or optimisation opportunities.
  1. Train and upskill teams constantly
    • Provide regular, bespoke training and education for employees responsible for overseeing automation, ensuring they understand the systems, their limitations, and the importance of their role.

Following the above steps allows SMEs to unlock the full potential of automation while maintaining a vital layer of human control. Such a combination ensures that automation is more scalable, accurate, and aligned with the company’s strategic objectives and regulatory requirements.

Leveraging Automation Ethically and Sustainably

Striking the right balance with established processes for human oversight allows business owners to unlock numerous future opportunities with the help of automation. It’s clear that this type of technology has the potential to support businesses to become more competitive, adaptable, and scalable in the evolving marketplace of today. 

While SMEs may feel concerned about the evolution of technology that looks to disrupt and shape operations for the future, there is reason to be optimistic when looking at automation as an asset, or more specifically, a human-supervised business tool. 

The real test lies in how SMEs continue to harness automation in ethical, human-led ways that push them on a path towards sustainable, long-term growth. 

Categories: News, Technology

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