Since the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century, automation technology has been deployed to do the work of humans.

 

As mechanisation and automation technologies have been developed, they have changed the landscape of employment.  Jobs have steadily moved from agriculture to manufacturing and more latterly, to services (also known as primary, secondary and tertiary sectors).  In doing so, far from being a threat to our livelihoods, automation has enabled large scale job-creation and diversification.

 

If robots are performing tasks that humans would otherwise do, it’s reasonable to ask therefore – are the digital bots of today threatening my job?

 

Let’s look to the lessons of history to answer that.

 

The beginning of automation

The 1st industrial revolution was the age of steam.  The mechanisation of agriculture and manufacturing was the order of the day.  Automation back then came in the form of machines like the Power Loom or the Spinning Jenny which, at the peak of its development, could perform the role of up to 120 factory workers.

 

Whilst this might appear to be detrimental to the labor market, it made manufactured goods cheaper and therefore in greater demand, and this in turn created a requirement for more factory workers – albeit in different roles.  It also (pun intended) fueled the need to deliver vast quantities of energy and raw materials to feed the factories, as well as food and clothing to provide for an ever growing and longer living, healthier population.

 

Production of coal, water, iron, wool, cotton, and the transportation of such goods via railways, canals and shipping, grew on a massive scale and accordingly these industries employed more and more people.

 

It also spawned a golden age of invention.  The number of new patents registered in the UK and Ireland grew from 8 in 1750 to 793 in 1850.  Out of interest, in 2020 this number was 3.2 million 1.

 

As the demand for manufactured goods grew massively, so was spawned a huge wave of invention and thus, an even greater need for manufacturing workers – a repeating cycle to this day.

 

So, far from having a negative effect on the labor market, the industrial revolution created employment, and diversity of employment, on a huge scale.  Not that it was in any way a golden age for the workers.  The advent of the philanthropist factory owners like Cadbury, Lever and Salt2, and the need for new legislation to protect workers, were a response to how tough conditions had become.

 

The growth and value of the cotton export trade from the southern states of America, and the dependence on slave labor to meet this demand, was one of the key causes of the American Civil War.  An automation invention, the Cotton Gin, made cotton a far more profitable and scalable crop and thus fuelled the need for slaves3.  Lest we forget.

 

Automation 2.0

Fast forward to the mid 19th century, and we enter the 2nd industrial revolution.  A proliferation of inventions based around new technologies such as the automobile, chemicals, rubber, electricity, and the telegraph, prompt another wave of industrialisation.  Electricity begins to take over from steam, and the next notable automation technology is developed – the production line.  It’s a huge leap forward in the volume of production and once again, far from being a threat to jobs, it makes manufactured goods more affordable and therefore increases demand and accordingly a huge surge in employment to meet that demand.

 

The Rise of the Computer

The 3rd industrial revolution in the latter half of the 20th century was the computer age.  Electronics, telecommunications, microchips and now robots performing more complex tasks, using logic, and making decisions.  It was a challenging era of change for assembly workers, and yet saw tremendous job growth in new fields of discovery such as life sciences, information technology, food and household products, and increasingly, professional services.

 

The Internet Age

This brings us to current times, in what some call the 4th industrial revolution, 4IR, or Industry 4.0.  It is the digital revolution, the internet age.  In the western world, the service economy has now significantly overtaken the manufacturing economy as a contributor to GDP 4.  We have seen an explosion in job creation as new models for customer sales, service and process integration are created to respond to the ever more complicated demands from consumers, customers and trading partners.  “as a Service” is a defining phrase of our time.

 

This growth in complexity must be reflected in enterprise software.  ERP, HCM, SCM and CRM systems must be able to deliver these new business processes to enable modern business models.  This leads to ever more complex implementations and, necessity being the mother of invention, innovation in the ways to handle this complexity.

 

Today’s robots are reflecting the technological innovations of the time.  They have diversified to become digital and available as a service, automating previously untouched processes in the tertiary sector.  We now call them “bots” – partly to reflect modern language’s desire to abbreviate, but also perhaps to differentiate from the shiny, tangible, mechanical robots of the factory floor or in sci-fi movies.  Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is the automation technology of our age, and the opportunities it presents to businesses and individuals are considerable.

 

As an automation software provider, we at Rapid4Cloud are seldom met with a shrug of the shoulders when we present our solution.  We find we are either greeted with considerable enthusiasm, or with pitchforks!  There is still a perceived threat to our livelihoods from automation, but I hope I’ve shown that the lessons of the past should reassure us that we need not worry.  One of my business partners made a great point to me recently on this topic.  He pointed out how ironic it was that IT professionals were resistant to embracing new technology.

 

It is often mistakenly thought that the Luddites of the 18th century were anti-machine, anti-automation.  In fact they were machine users, artisans who took pride in the quality of their work and were protesting at factory owners who put profits ahead of product quality and working conditions5.

 

Regardless of the age we are in, the fears are real to those who feel them.  I hope this blog can offer at least a little comfort that they need not worry.

 

By Philip Martin

Founder & CEO

 

  1. https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/number-of-patents-through-the-industrial-revolution
  2. https://www.ft.com/content/3a0856c6-e1d5-11dd-afa0-0000779fd2ac
  3. https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-cotton-gin-a-game-changing-social-and-economic-invention
  4. https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/your-service-developing-economies-bet-service-industries-growth
  5. https://www.wcml.org.uk/our-collections/protest-politics-and-campaigning-for-change/luddites/

We have had our most successful half year ever here at Rapid4Cloud, and I want to personally thank our customers for the trust they place in us daily to help them implement and manage their Oracle ERP and HCM systems.

 

We have more customers running more jobs and getting more benefit than ever before.

 

We are trusted by:

  • one of the largest retailers in the UK
  • one of the top Construction companies in the US
  • the leading Supply Chain/Logistics company globally
  • the world’s most respected IGO
  • one of the world’s foremost safety and security companies
  • the UK’s most respected Asset Management company
  • Japan’s most trusted global banking provider
  • 4 of the top 6 Oracle implementation partners in the Gartner Leaders quadrant for 2022

 

We look forward to welcoming more customers to this prestigious group and look forward to further helping grow the Oracle eco-system.

 

Request a 14-day free trial today to see the benefits for yourself.

 

Philip Martin

Founder and CEO

Rapid4Cloud

Shortly after 5pm on the evening of 28 December 1978, United Airlines Flight 173 began its descent to Portland International Airport.

 

What followed was tragic and entirely avoidable, and led to a revolution in error-handling in the aviation industry.

 

As the flight was descending, and the landing gear was lowered, the crew felt a strange vibration and yaw.  A lack of an indicator light led the crew to conclude that the landing gear had not properly deployed.  They then proceeded to spend the next hour in a holding pattern trying to diagnose the issue – was it instrumentation failure or a gear failure?  Visual checks by the control tower and the flight crew confirmed that the gear was deployed.

 

The captain was unconvinced.

 

In fact, they spent so long focused on this one issue that they created another – a shortage of fuel.  They ran out completely just over an hour after their first approach and crash landed in a wooded suburban area 6 miles short of the airport, with the loss of 10 lives.  Later it was confirmed that the landing gear had been down and locked correctly from the beginning.

 

It’s a difficult read, as it seems obvious to the casual observer what could and should have been done differently.

 

The lessons from this event are a reminder that humans are fallible and therefore mistakes are inevitable.  When mistakes do happen, our instinctive human response is not always borne out of common sense.  Work or home pressure, emotion, arcane work practices, deference to rank or status – these things can obscure or inhibit good decision-making.

 

The lessons from this tragedy are universal.  There is a fantastic essay by Ian Leslie which tells the story in more detail, and how this incident subsequently changed operating theatre procedure in the UK National Health Service.  It’s a profound lesson in learning from our mistakes and a most worthy 10-minute read.

 

You can find it here.  https://www.newstatesman.com/uncategorized/2014/06/how-mistakes-can-save-lives

 

Here at Rapid4Cloud we have procedures in place to continuously improve our operations.  Reflecting on the lessons from Flight 173, we have processes and controls to address quality and how we respond to issues, and we have a flat structure in which everyone feels empowered and safe to question and challenge.

 

We know we can’t eradicate all errors, but we can try, and our team spends a large amount of their time trying to prevent errors from happening at all.  These errors come from various sources:

  • errors in our code. This is down to quality control.
  • errors inadvertently performed by users. These come from bad product design, insufficient or inadequate training/procedure or simply human error caused by any number of reasons – tiredness, stress etc.
  • errors in processing because of poor data.  Nearly all the errors we see fall into this category.

It’s one of those never-ending journeys – software is never bug free, users will always find holes in your design, and bad data…well, I’m afraid that’s up there with death and taxes as one of life’s certainties.

 

Our automation software exactly replicates what a user should do in front of an Oracle screen.  If our software encounters a problem entering data it captures a screenshot from Oracle, with the exact error message a consultant would see if they entered the data manually, and puts it into an error log.  This becomes the checklist for the consultant.  It guides them to each configuration and data error.

 

It was on this theme that I was speaking with one of our business partner’s consultants last week.  He said something which surprised me.  He said he loved getting error logs.

 

This caught me out.

 

It was not a view that had been expressed to me before.  We typically see error logs as a sign of failure – “What went wrong and why?”.  For this consultant they were a sign of achievement.  He had just successfully (and quickly) found a problem and knew exactly what and where it was.  To him, the error logs were like a satnav that took him straight to configuration and data issues and enabled him to fix them efficiently and effectively.  Now there’s an attitude I can embrace!

 

We can mitigate human-error with processes and checklists (this was the primary lesson from Flight 173), and we can eliminate human error with systems and automation.  Ideally, you have both.  Not that systems are infallible (again, software is never bug free) but they are measurably and significantly more accurate than humans.

 

So given that errors are unavoidable, it is better to find and diagnose them as soon as possible and fix the cause.

 

One of the many benefits of Robotic Process Automation, the engine that powers Rapid4Cloud software, is that it is dispassionate.  It is free from the bias that distorts human decision making, and it simultaneously eliminates and exposes human error in processes.  This makes problem resolution very quick and easy – and it’s what our consultant friend finds so helpful in our error report.

 

Not long ago, one of our customers lost $1.5m in orders over a weekend due to a configuration change.  Understandably emotions were high, and they spent the weekend frantically looking for what had changed/gone wrong, problem solving in the time-honored fashion of trial and elimination.  Ultimately, they called us for advice.  We ran a standard configuration report and found the issue in 10 minutes.  They could have done this themselves, and knew how to, but it wasn’t embedded as part of their process.  It sure is now.  Mistakes in our business are very rarely life-threatening, as they are in aviation or healthcare, but we can absolutely learn and apply lessons from these industries.

 

By Philip Martin

Founder & CEO

SAN JOSE, CA – August 8, 2022.  Rapid4Cloud, the leaders in automation tools to support Oracle Cloud Applications customers and partners, today announced that it has successfully passed its latest SOC 2 Type II audit.  This audit certifies that Rapid4Cloud meets the SOC2 standards for security, availability and confidentiality of data.

 

“We have passed this second audit following our initial certification” Philip Martin, CEO and Founder of Rapid4Cloud said.  “I am so proud of our magnificent team here at Rapid4Cloud, whose constant diligence and hard work have ensured that we maintain the high standards we set a year ago.

 

We receive more questions on information security than any other subject, so we know this matters very much to our customers and partners.  This audit provides our customers with the comfort that they seek in this area.”

 

Rapid4Cloud makes it easier to implement and run Oracle Cloud Applications.  Their intelligent automation products dramatically reduce the time it takes to configure and maintain Oracle ERP and HCM.