5 reasons not to fear network automation

by | Feb 28, 2019 | Blog

The world is currently gripped by the belief that automation will change the world as we know it today and take workers jobs leading to massive unemployment. There are reports of policy makers, politicians and experts’ perpetuation of the robot apocalypse that is set to befall the planet. It is fair to believe that these reports are overly pessimistic, and out of touch with reality. With Elisa Automate, we’ve seen the benefits of automation for customers, companies and employees.

Here are reasons why mobile network professionals should not be afraid of automation:

  1. Automation has always been present.

The history of automation is extensive, even though we tend to think of automation as a modern phenomenon, but it in fact started in the 11th century in mining. Modern automation as we know it picked steam in the 1930s due to electricity availability that drove Industrial automation in factories. The precursor to the current automation methods using robots and AI was the mother of all demos in 1968 by Douglas Carl Engelbart, who is renowned for his pioneering work in the field of human-computer interaction with the aim of solving complex world problems. Over 50 years later, Mobile networks have seen an increase in automation in recent years and is expected to pick speed with the large-scale rollout of 5G networks. The current attention given to automation notwithstanding, the fact is that automation has existed for much longer..

  1. Automation will help us do more

One of the most common fears in connection with automation is related to job losses. The concern for job losses is real and cannot be discounted. When it comes to automation in mobile networks, there have been several automation initiatives and products appearing the last 5-10 years.  There is a case for network automation, for example, self-organizing networks (SON) is increasingly being adopted by mobile operators worldwide and provide a host of benefits that range from decline in dropped calls by up to 50%, reduction of network congestion by up to 80% during mass events, and a significant reduction in both CAPEX and OPEX. Elisa started adopting network automation over 10 years ago, after the launch of unlimited data plans and a cap on OPEX. Faced with an unprecedented increase in data traffic and same number of engineers, the only other option on the table was automation. The planning and optimization engineers started writing algorithms to automate their manual tasks, and Elisa SON was born. This helped them do more of their daily tasks. Algorithms began doing what they had done manually before100x faster, but the human task was significantly changed. From boring repetitive work, to exciting algorithm development. This is a perfect case of retraining for a job when automation is implemented. In similar ways, retraining opportunities are plenty. You can read the Elisa story on the Elisa Automate webpage here.

  1. The world is more complex than it appears

With the increasing interest of big data and cloud in the latest years, operators have become more aware of the value that it brings. However, many companies are still unsure how to utilise the data efficiently. A study by McKinsey in 2016 among mobile operators showed that only a few companies enjoyed an incremental profit impact exceeding 10 percent. Why is this? Working with large amounts of data doesn’t mean that you will benefit from it automatically. It has to be utilised for the right causes. In a similar manner, automation does not just appear automatically. It is created by humans and needs to be neutered and changed. As the world changes, automation also needs to change. At Elisa Automate we have made this easy by allowing mobile operators to develop their own automation solutions using a python software development kit. It adds agility and strength to the teams that want to improve the quality of the networks.

  1. We are afraid just because we do not know what it means

The probability of AI completely replacing human capability is another great fear that people usually have. However, currently, AI and machine learning is used to augment human capabilities and can work better than, or even surpass human capabilities in very structured environments, with very clear boundaries. This does not however work in less unstructured environments that are highly unpredictable and require creativity. Combining human capabilities and AI precision results in better user experience and helps humans make decisions easily and in better ways. When network operations are automated, the engineers are less concerned with the manual repetitive tasks and can focus on tasks that require more nuanced thinking, increasing their productivity and enabling them to learn new skills. Seeing the opportunities with AI and automation can be hard while it looks like the reality is that you will just be replaced.

  1. Automation will help us better secure critical infrastructure like networks

Reluctance on adoption of automation in critical mobile network operations are sometimes driven by the fear that automation is not safe or as reliable as a human being is. However, this is not entirely true.. Automating the network ensures that the vast amounts of data that are generated by the network elements are properly processed, are processed fast and in a reliable way within rules that are stipulated by humans. The challenge then is to make automated systems reliability to be close as close to 100% as possible. A study by Anthony Hillesheim and Christina Rusnock on predicting how the human-automation team performance was affected by the automation reliability rates concluded that ” at reliability rates of 90% and less, the presence of the automated agent degraded system performance to levels less than achieved in human-only scenarios”. The Elisa network automation solutions have had a reliability of 99.997% during 10 years of operations. Also data security is a serious concern with all operators, with heavy fines attached to data breaches with stringent data security laws, like those in Europe. There have been major concerns with background algorithms collecting user data in consumer systems, and the obvious assumption is that the same is happening with the industrial systems. Elisa automate solutions are installed in the operator cloud within their own firewall, and special permission must be granted to Elisa support personnel when the need arises, ensuring that the operator data is safeguarded, putting data security within an operator’s control.

In the end, despite the growing fear of automation, there are reasons why we should not be afraid. Automation will for most people create more exciting jobs and better opportunities. The general pattern since the first machine was invented has been that automation replaces the repetitive, mundane tasks, allowing humans to concentrate on other more productive tasks. The world need not fear automation. 

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