Today’s modern workplace is a product of decades of creative innovation and the automation of processes and tasks—from chatbots to food-delivery robots—saving customers and businesses time and money over the years. Since in business—and in life—does anything beat more time and money? The future of work will inevitably be marked by an ongoing need for workplace automation, as hybrid work adds new complexities to the workflows and tools you need to serve your customers.
Below is a guide for your hybrid workforce as it evolves and grows, plus ways you can continue this pattern of time- and money-saving through automation.
What workplace automation is
The pros and cons of workplace automation
Types of automation in the workplace
The future of automation and how Meraki can help
What is workplace automation?
Workplace automation is the application of processes or systems using technology (software and/or hardware) to do repeatable or predictable workflows without requiring manual intervention.
The result? Speeding up the way you work by removing manual steps to increase productivity and efficiency.
Nowadays, automation in the office has largely become software-driven. Along with the migration toward cloud-based tools and applications, APIs, big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) have paved the way for new advancements in analytics, driving even more efficient automation and the optimization of workflows.
“Automation is at the heart of any API system. Investing in technologies and platforms with APIs makes it easy for any small business or large enterprise to automate a variety of use cases and save countless hours while seamlessly connecting tools,” says Ana Nennig, Solutions Marketing Manager for Ecosystem and Developers at Cisco Meraki.
Benefits of automation in the workplace
With the advent of robotics and technologies, the notion that human jobs can be replaced by machines continues to simmer.
According to a 2021 PWC survey, 60% of U.S. employees believe tech developments will improve their job prospects. Globally, 61% believe automation is putting many people’s jobs at risk.
The reality is more nuanced and less definitive. New technologies have, for the most part, allowed us to work more efficiently while offloading wearisome tasks.
Here are four ways you can benefit from automation in the workplace.
1. Higher productivity and performance
There’s nothing quite as soul-crushing as doing repetitive and mundane tasks all day that require little skill or effort. Reducing manual work can free up time for employees to focus on higher-value work. This can drive more innovation, giving your business a competitive edge.
In a 2021 Zapier report, 88% of SMBs said automation allows them to compete with larger companies by enabling them to move faster.
2. Cost savings
Less time spent on mind-numbing workflows and tasks can not only result in greater productivity, but also greater cost savings. As an added bonus, this can lead to greater employee happiness, output, and even pay.
In the height of the pandemic in 2020, conversational software company LivePerson said they saw their call-center agents’ pay increase by about 15% when they became “bot builders” to train their AI chatbots on how to answer questions.
3. Increase safety
Employee safety is paramount in any workplace, and eliminating risks or dangerous procedures benefits everyone, particularly in manufacturing and labor-intensive environments.
For example, with social distancing and sanitation being a major concern the past few years, companies have been able to use robots to clean floors, windows, and more.
4. Reduce human error
When it comes to manual tasks such as data entry and invoicing, automating tedious workflows can benefit both companies and employees. Fewer mistakes translates to fewer errors, and in many cases greater employee satisfaction.
According to Zapier, 34% of SMBs say automating tasks like data entry reduces errors.
Disadvantages of automation in the workplace
Will robots replace all of our jobs one day?
The Paradox of Automation says that “…the more efficient the automated system, the more crucial the human contribution of the operators. Humans are less involved, but their involvement becomes more critical.”
Rather than replacing human jobs, it’s trending that robots may instead displace and shift jobs to new needs. MIT scientist Andrew McAfee has said, “I would put more emphasis on the way technology leads to structural changes in the economy, and less on jobs, jobs, jobs. The central phenomenon is not net job loss. It’s the shift in the kinds of jobs that are available.”
Four key challenges to keep in mind with workplace automation
1. More training
To keep your automated systems running smoothly, your employees may need to acquire new skills. New business workflows also tend to impact multiple teams and processes, meaning more training is required across your organization.
Recommendation: Document new tools and workflows and create mandatory team or organization-level training sessions to orient teams on new processes or new policies to keep your systems running well.
2. Initial costs
As you digitally transform your workplace, understand that implementation and maintenance costs, potential recurring fees or licensing, and investments in keeping up with the latest technologies come with the territory.
Recommendation: Calculate the long-term ROI of investing in new technologies. Ensure it maps back to your longer-term business goals, and that the vendors you work with include a full suite of customer service and support, should there be any issues that surface.
3. Less flexibility
Unless you invest significant efforts in building your own automated workflows for maximum customization, tool and software integrations can be limited to certain use cases or tasks.
Recommendation: To ensure future flexibility as you grow, integrate with software providers and platforms with open APIs so you have more customization options and the ability to integrate with other services and providers as your needs evolve.
4. More security needed
Adding new workflows, software, and applications could open up room for potential vulnerabilities in your business networks. Particularly as cybersecurity attacks have risen by 3-4x since 2020, with the shift to a hybrid work model.
Recommendation: Deploy resilient cybersecurity solutions with threat protection to safeguard newly added applications, devices, and users in your networks. Schedule regular software and firmware updates or opt into automatic security updates when possible.
Types of automation in the workplace to consider
Nearly all teams can benefit from automating their workflows, whether it’s an HR screening process, IT ticket routing and assigning, or even AI-controlled robots for surgery.
The use cases are limitless. You can start by prioritizing your biggest business challenges and operational bottlenecks to uncover where repetitive work exists. Then look into flexible technologies, platforms, and ecosystems that let you improve, streamline, and automate tasks.
Here are four powerful workplace automation ideas to help boost efficiency and employee job satisfaction.
1. Hybrid workplace automation
For a safe return to the office, keeping spaces clean and optimizing how your spaces are used can create an inviting workplace that employees look forward to returning to. Facilitating these hybrid work experiences can be done through seamless technology integrations.
Technology provider example
PlaceOS connects your devices, databases, buildings, and systems to help you automate room and desk booking, schedule cleaning based on space usage, and even get insights about how people use your workplace. Watch how PlaceOS works.
Smart cleaning: Cleaning service notifications can trigger cleaning protocols by cross-checking occupancy data in your workplace Smart delivery: Enable service providers to deliver packages to employees, wherever they’re based in your building
2. Smart spaces with digital tags
Replacing physical price tags or labels with digital tags and electronic shelf label (ESL) solutions can open up new revenue streams for retailers, manufacturers, and offices. You can automatically sync, update, and optimize pricing, as well as update in-store stocking to create better customer experiences.
Technology provider example
SES-imagotag lets retailers turn physical stores into highly automated, data-driven digital assets that can connect in real time to customers and brands, all using their digital price tags and IoT hub. Watch how SES-Imagotag works.
Increase sales: Automate prices via real-time updates and promos and detect out-of-shelf items in real timeEnhance shopper experiences: Show rich content on shelves and guide customers to the right products
3. Smart spaces with asset tracking
Manually scanning or hand-counting products at your warehouse can create burdens when it comes to traceability and reporting, while potentially introducing human error. Automating your entire logistics and supply chain through smart-tracking technologies can open up visibility and enable new operational efficiencies.
Technology provider example
Tag-N-Trac lets manufacturers, retailers, and logistics companies automate inventory tracking and gain insight into the entire supply chain process.
Their ultra-thin, ultra-low-cost Bluetooth® labels have built-in sensors for monitoring temperature, tampering, shock, and more. Watch how Tag-N-Trac works.
Inventory management: Save time by tracking global inventory levels in real time; no need for manual scanning Pharma and biotech compliance: Seal items with the QR code of the Tag-N-Trac label during packaging, while getting full access and visibility to tracing and serialization throughout the logistics lifecycle
4. Marketing automation
To deliver memorable customer experiences, personalization matters. Accenture found that 47% of customers are willing to pay more for an experience that exceeds their expectations. Infusing more personalization into your customer journey while automating marketing steps along the way can go a long way to delivering happiness.
Technology provider example
Purple turns your locations into intelligent spaces by using your guest Wi-Fi and providing insights to help you understand how guests use your spaces. You can then improve visitor experiences with personalization. Learn more about Purple.
Increase loyalty: Collect key demographic and behavioral data from customers logging into your guest Wi-Fi to build better customer profiles and enhance the customer experience Personalize campaigns: Retarget customers with specific campaigns tailored to their interests and automate communication around relevant events and promotions
The future of work and how Meraki can help
American philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said, “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” There’s a clear and indispensable need for both automation and humans, today and in the foreseeable future.
The Meraki cloud-first platform powers IT and IoT technologies that let you deliver exceptional experiences for your hybrid workforce throughout your digital transformation journey.
It all begins with our intuitive dashboard and an extensive library of open APIs and technology integrations to automate your workplace.
In the words of Ana Nennig: “The Meraki Marketplace features an exclusive catalog of applications developed by ecosystem partners using our open APIs. They help businesses solve their operational challenges of IT and IoT and stay competitive by deploying apps in specific outcomes and experiences such as hybrid work.”
As you innovate for the future, join our webinar and hear from Meraki Marketplace experts, Ana Nennig (Solutions Marketing Manager) and Joe Maestri (Ecosystem Business Development Manager), as well as Sabrina Venish (Global Head of Platform Solutions) from PlaceOS, on how you can automate workplace tasks and much more.
Faster than a speeding packet, more capacity than Wi-Fi 6 APs, able to leap into your network in (almost) a single bound!
Your name doesn’t need to be Clark Kent to be a superhero. While our new MR57 most likely won’t give you the ability to fly (that we know of), it will give your network super speed and super strength.
In our post last month, The 6Es of Wi-Fi 6E, we announced our first Wi-Fi 6E indoor access point. We’re here to officially say, the MR57 is now orderable. Besides having a sleek new look, let’s talk about the superpowers the MR57 brings to your network.
Super speed, powered by Wi-Fi 6E
Need to change the world for your workforce fast? The Wi-Fi 6E MR57 brings the speed your diverse and growing IT environment needs. The 6 GHz spectrum delivers higher throughput by upping Wi-Fi speeds to 4,800 Mbps and expanding the 20 MHz, 40 MHz, 80 MHz, and 160 MHz channels.
Super strength to tackle every network villain
Ready to shoulder any network workload, the MR57 is a cloud-managed 802.11ax-compatible access point that raises the bar for wireless performance and efficiency. Designed for next-generation deployments in dense environments like offices, schools, hospitals, retail shops, and hotels, the MR57 offers high throughput, enterprise-grade security, and simple management (more on that superpower in a moment).
No matter what problem arises, the MR57 is up to the task, packing concurrent 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz radios, a dedicated radio for real-time WIDS/WIPS and automated RF optimization, and an integrated IoT radio for Bluetooth® Low Energy scanning and beaconing.
The MR57 makes all that power look easy (whether you power it directly or through its 802.3at- and 802.3bt-compliant Ethernet ports). It even gives you the flexibility to switch between multiple operation modes: pick dual-band mode and get an extra 5 GHz capacity to handle today’s wireless congestion, or, when your employees’ 6E client devices come online in force, flip the switch and open up the 6 GHz band.
Always there when you need it
Speaking of those PoE ports, the MR57 sports dual mGig Ethernet for high availability or link aggregation. That secondary Ethernet port can also be used for power and data sharing or in high-availability mode for added resiliency.
The power of the platform
Even superheroes need to learn new tricks to keep up with an ever-changing world. Just like our other award-winning access points, you’ll manage your new MR57 through the Meraki dashboard. And, since the MR57 is self-configuring, it can be deployed to remote locations in a matter of minutes, even without on-site staff.
Get x-ray vision with 24×7 monitoring via the Meraki cloud, plus real-time alerts if your network encounters problems. Meraki remote diagnostic tools equip you with immediate troubleshooting over the web, allowing you to manage your distributed networks with minimal hassle. See the full MR57 specifications here. Ready to level up your network superpowers? Start your free trial today.
The hybrid world has changed where and how we work. Supply chain constraints require more efficiency and make reducing waste more important than ever. Increased options and competition have changed the way consumers and businesses transact. In order to stay ahead, organizations need to rapidly adapt their current environments.
This means continually evaluating workspaces to improve the employee experience, actively managing resources and processes to improve sustainability, and finding new ways to engage customers. According to Salesforce research, 80% of customers now consider the experience a company provides to be justas important as its products and services—so it’s more important than ever for organizations to invest in these differentiated customer experiences.
To accomplish this, companies need better ways to understand their physical world. If they’re going to adapt, survive, and thrive, they need to create smarter spaces that provide insight into these ever-changing environments, simplify data analysis, and turn that data into action—such as automation, process improvement, or increased sustainability.
Meraki already powers thousands of smart spaces by combining our smart cameras and environmental sensors with a rich ecosystem of partners to tie it all together. And today, we are announcing new products, partnerships, and machine-learning capabilities that further accelerate our customers’ ability to evolve their smart spaces.
New MV analytics capabilities
Video is a rich source of information about activity in physical spaces. Video analytics—powered by Meraki-provided models—help extract important insights about where motion is happening, occupancy levels, and which desks are in use. While these models have wide-ranging applications, customers have needs beyond their scope.
To address new video analytics use cases, we are adding support for custom computer vision (CV) models on second-generation MV smart cameras with MV Sense. With the ability to deploy these custom AI models on-camera, customers can leverage the device’s edge computing power to address new, unique business problems—like quality control in a restaurant or optimizing pallet usage in a warehouse.
They can also solve existing use cases more efficiently while leveraging the secure, simplified architecture and on-camera processing capability of MV smart cameras. Explore MV analytics on our website to learn more about video analytics and our new computer vision capabilities.
Accelerating AI at the edge with Cogniac
Computer vision is complicated, and building custom models can require dedicated teams of machine-learning experts and months of development, putting practical applications out of reach for most organizations. That’s about to change. We are excited to announce a partnership with Cogniac that will enable Meraki customers to accelerate their use of the new custom CV capabilities on MV smart cameras.
Cogniac is a low-code visual intelligence platform that enables users to build their own AI models quickly and confidently. This partnership will give organizations access to the latest deep-learning technologies without the need for their own AI specialists.
The Cogniac system supports the complete machine-learning development workflow, from efficient image labeling to ML model development. Meraki MV smart cameras, in partnership with Cogniac, bring the benefits of cutting-edge video intelligence and automation to organizations of all sizes. To learn more, visit Cogniac in the Marketplace.
Expanded sensor models
As powerful as video is, effectively monitoring physical environments requires understanding far more than what can be seen. Meraki MT sensors already provide valuable non-visual insights—helping customers reduce unplanned network downtime, prevent asset loss, and improve sustainability. With the introduction of two new sensors, the MT14 and MT30, we’re dramatically expanding on these capabilities.
First, the new MT14 is an indoor air quality sensor, providing insight into overall air conditions to improve comfort and safety. MT14 monitors humidity, TVOCs, PM2.5, and overall noise levels to help organizations create more comfortable environments that improve employee productivity and enhance customer experiences.
Next, the MT30 is a smart automation button designed to streamline common tasks or trigger specific actions. Paired with the new automation builder in the Meraki dashboard, organizations can build custom workflows to automate any task, like alerting staff members when a customer needs assistance, turning off Wi-Fi to help students focus in school, replenishing material on a manufacturing line, or controlling office lighting to decrease energy consumption. Interested? The MT14 and MT30 sensors will be available for order starting April 12, 2022.
A powerful solution for smart spaces
Meraki now offers customers even more ways to build smart spaces and safer environments. Whether in office workspaces, commercial spaces, or restricted areas, organizations have tools they can leverage to get the data they need about the physical world.
An open platform with ecosystem partners like Cogniac enables businesses to improve employee productivity, increase customer experiences, and drive efficiencies, truly turning insight into action. To see what smart spaces can do for your organization, request a demo or get started with a trial today.
Levi Toney is Director of Workplace Experience at Cisco Meraki
Like many organizations, you’re likely looking to provide safer, healthier environments for your hybrid workforce as offices begin to open up and the workplace takes on a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. But upgrading your office space can be a challenge.
When the Cisco Meraki Digital Workplace team wanted to add smarts to our office in San Francisco, we had an edge: we work at Meraki after all—we’re developers of the best cloud-based smart cameras and sensors.
While that meant we didn’t have to compare key products, we still had to navigate the challenges that come with doing something new. Dennis Adams, Meraki Workplace Technology Lead (and a member of my team), played a key role in the implementation. We both learned a lot through it all, and now we’re sharing a few of the key lessons we learned.
Advocate for the cause
Look behind the curtain of any successful initiative and you’ll find at least one enthusiastic proponent. This knowledgeable individual has a seemingly endless supply of energy and positivity, and you need that level of advocacy when you’re adopting technologies.
In our case, that enthusiast was Dennis, who has championed the capabilities and opportunities of smart spaces throughout Meraki and Cisco.
In addition to keeping on top of product information, Dennis was the bridge who connected the Digital Workplace team to other Meraki and Cisco departments. Having seen the opportunities that smart cameras and sensors could bring far beyond the Digital Workforce team, Dennis has become an internal entrepreneur for smart spaces.
Think big, act smaller
While it’s exciting to think big and be ambitious with your long-term goals—and we have some great long-term plans—start smaller. Focusing on one manageable pilot with trackable goals sets you on a path for success, and makes that longer wish list more feasible (in time).
Hitting KPIs is more than a good feeling. It’s often the route to more funding and more resources. Developing a pilot project instead of tackling an entire floor or department at once gives you insight and data points, and allows you to more easily tweak features or technologies as you go.
Find an executive sponsor
It’s invaluable to get an executive champion on board, someone who can cut through red tape and provide insight into business-wide impacts, challenges, and opportunities. With their understanding of future plans for the enterprise, these upper-management evangelists bring depth to the discussion and demonstrate how serious your team is to the success of the implementation.
They may also be willing to open doors that once were closed, clarify territorial disputes, and pull in resources as needed.
Power up partners
Look around for other teams in your organization to partner with. Be creative. You may find that budgets are more flexible with facilities departments (and possibly even richer) compared to IT budgets, so teaming up makes sense from a functional, organizational, and fiscal perspective.
The more business units involved, the more budgets may be available to smart spaces with measurable results across divisions like facilities, IT, security, and operations.
For us, working with other departments across Cisco and Meraki was key. We teamed up with Cisco DNA Spaces and used MV cameras for people counting and detection and used DNA Spaces Tripwire API to keep track of entry and exit numbers at Meraki San Francisco offices.
We also leveraged Meraki MV22 smart cameras with anonymous information shared in an employee-facing dashboard for conference-room-bookings. In addition, the DNA Spaces team worked with the Real Estate and Facilities Management teams on an administration portal for utilization data.
Sustain the world
The environment is something many of us care about. We recycle, shut off lights to conserve energy, and fix dripping faucets to preserve resources.
Going beyond what’s visible by leveraging data, we can find even more ways to improve sustainability. With insight into the physical environment, we can create smart spaces for safer, happier, and more comfortable employees and guests and cut down on wasted electricity, heating, cooling, and water at the same time.
Adhering to these best practices shaped our smart-space deployments and set up Meraki for a smooth return-to-office. We hope to see you, perhaps even IRL, soon.