What is Office Automation?
Office automation was a big topic back in the early 80s, mostly due to the introduction of the personal computer into the office environment. Since then office automation has essentially meant the creation, collection, storage, manipulation and sharing of electronic data. To achieve this a typical office will consist of user workstations, Local Area Networks (LANs), servers and mass storage, with appropriate software tools to bring these systems to life.
The list of tools and technologies used for office automation is extensive. The thing to remember though is that it’s vital to replace paper with digital wherever possible so true automation can take place. Paper copies of your data are still useful sometimes so that’s where scanners and printers fit into the system. They’re the interface between the old paper world and the new digitally automated world.
Scanners are used to convert your paper documents to digital and printers are used to convert them back. In between the two in their digital form documents can be stored, manipulated and transferred at light speed.
Modern Day Office Automation
Office automation has advanced quite a lot since the 80s but not as much as it could have.
What’s holding automation back is that it takes big companies a long time and a lot of expense to rip out the old systems and introduce the new ones. So they often don’t, until they really have to. The concept of modern office automation is the same as it used to be but technology has move on significantly. With faster workstations, massive storage and super fast networks now available you can manipulate more data faster and make the user experience much more seamless.
Some of the advantages of a modern network are centralised storage of masses of data, automatic backups, easier sharing and improved data security. The advances in office automation software also allow facilities like video conferencing and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), not to mention the more established email and Intranets.
For storing and manipulating complex data we often see databases and spreadsheets being used. Databases and spreadsheets have revolutionised office automation, automating tasks that used to take hours or days and perform them in seconds.
Office Automation for the Future
Although technologies like SMS and social networking are not exactly cutting edge any more they haven’t yet take off as a means of business/employee communication. That’s not to say that no businesses use them, many do, but the vast majority don’t. Other less established technologies like browser based applications, wide area wireless networks and cloud computing are destined to hit modern businesses soon, but again, not many companies have truly embraced them yet.
So what does the office of the future look like? Well, if we add social networking, web apps, cloud computing and large scale wireless networks then that will take us some way towards future office automation.
However, I think we need to look further into the future towards virtual offices where employees work from home and the office is no longer a physical location, except for maybe some servers and network connections. The point is though you won’t have to go there any more. Think of how much money virtual offices would save future businesses, replacing the entire office and the building it’s in with a group of servers and network connections taking up a fraction of space and other resources.
If you’re an office worker who spends hours sat in traffic every day, working from home might sound like an exciting prospect and rightly so. Before virtual offices really take off though a major business mindset shift need to take place, both for the businesses and their employees. The technology for virtual offices already exists and it’s the small businesses consisting of a two or three people working from their respective homes who are already ahead of the game.
Unfortunately it’s going to be years before virtual offices (the ultimate in office automation) become a widespread reality in big businesses.