Last week, I wrote here how Wendy's, the fast-food restaurant chain, is deploying 1,000 kiosks in its restaurants across the country. The company said it was doing so not just to reduce overhead, but to respond to its customers' demands for quicker service.
As I mentioned in the report, Wendy's is not the only restaurant investing in automation. "Everywhere, companies like Wendy's are automating," I wrote. "Chains like Red Robin and Uno Pizzeria & Grill are using Ziosk tablets so that customers can order, pay and play games while waiting for their food to arrive. Wawa convenience stores, beloved in my hometown of Philadelphia, take all of their deli and sandwich orders via self-service kiosks. Airports around the country have restaurants equipped with similar tablets to quickly order a bite before a flight."
Automation, of course, isn't just limited to the restaurant industry. Many supermarkets and pharmacies have self-checkout aisles. Airlines let us check-in on our own. Gas station customers pump their own fuel. Banks have automated tellers. Amazon has recently announced a chain of convenience stores that will rely on technology for self-selection, fulfillment and payment. Uber is investing heavily in autonomous, self-driving vehicles.
Let's admit that this is not just about customer service. It's about cutting overhead. It's about reducing employment or, to put it bluntly, eliminating jobs. Many companies don't like to admit this. But one entrepreneur does.
Mike Galarza is the founder and CEO of Entryless, a leader in accounts payable automation technology (the company is also a client of mine, although I received no compensation to write this article). Entryless uses Optical Character Recognition technology to scan documents (invoices and bills from vendors); extract the data into an online, reviewable format; and then automatically migrate that data into accounting and payment systems. Accounts payable automation technology like the kind provided by Entryless speeds up the accounts payables process and significantly reduces data entry error and redundancies. It also eliminates people because, with this kind of technology, automation replaces accounts payable staff.
Does this bother Galarza? Not at all.
"I think automation does eliminate jobs that are being done by humans," he told me recently. "But I also think these same people would be doing better things."
Galarza is baffled by people who are satisfied with just doing manual data entry - or low-skilled work to begin with. To him, automation enables entrepreneurs and CEOs to grow their companies faster and more efficiently. The same jobs will be needed, but across a larger organization.
Wendy's, for example, could use the savings from its 1,000 self-help kiosks to open up 1,000 more restaurants, which would require more workers overall. The same is true for all the other restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and airlines - they can grow more easily and hopefully hire more workers in the process.
"It's about refocusing skills," says Galarza. "The jobs that are being taken out because of automation, those jobs can be retrained, and workers can adopt more and better skills." This may not necessarily involve university study. It's more about how fast a worker can learn new on-the-job skills that will make him or her more competitive in the labor market. Managers and business owners don't value mundane, repetitive work that can be done with a machine. We value thinkers, doers, people who use technology to help us profit. Companies like Entryless provide, in Galarza's point of view, an opportunity for people to adjust their skills for higher-value tasks.
Automation is "really going to allow businesses to hire more effectively, create more jobs and generate more business," says Galarza.
He's right. People don't like change, and automation scares many. But change shouldn't be feared. It should be embraced. Automation will generate more wealth, not less. Wealth that will benefit everyone, as long as we're willing to adjust and earn it.