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Can automation save us from a no-deal Brexit?

  • Written by Alyssa Shyanne

    With the EU having agreed to a “flextension” through 31 January 2020, uncertainty remains for the UK and a no-deal Brexit resides as a strong possibility.

    While some see benefits to it, there are expectations and analyses indicating that this sort of clean break would have somewhat dire short-term effects on businesses.

    There are worries that the pound may suffer, the population of skilled workers may decline more, and economic growth may slow measurably.

    Could the implication of increased automation actually help UK businesses to mitigate the potentially problematic effects of a no-deal Brexit?

    Why automation?

    We face a near-future world in which automation will be necessary for efficiency in competitive industries. This is true regardless of a no-deal Brexit or not.

    Writing for Government Europa, outreach specialist Terry Hearn pointed to the need for skilled workers as a likely driver of increasing automation. He stated: “Skills shortages are a concern regardless of Brexit, but the uncertainty seems to be a trigger for organisations.”

    RELATED: Nearly half of NI businesses feeling negative effects of Brexit already

    Automation, Hearn argues, would help companies to resolve issues around productivity and personnel, helping to reduce costs as well.

    He also suggested that the UK is lagging behind in automation to begin with, ranking 15th in Europe with 71 “industrial robots” per 10,000 workers.

    What about the workforce?

    It’s an undeniable truth that in some cases automation will in fact displace workers. However, these cases may be less common than one would assume.

    It is possible and probable that automation will ultimately provide more net opportunity and relief for workers, rather than leave them unemployed. People will be needed to operate new machines and existing staff can be “reskilled” to do this rather than let go.

    In a piece for Verizon Connect Australia, contributor Taylor Fasulas covered aspects of automation in a piece on “bringing your business back to life.”

    She pointed out the importance of data in optimising performance: “Access to real-time data empowers service managers to make better day-to-day decisions” - which can trickle down to employees and result in better overall productivity.

    It’s already begun

    While the UK could be lagging behind in automation tech currently, there are recent examples of companies exploring its various aspects.

    Fleet tracking services are already in place and expanding in the UK. Take telecommunications company Verizon Connect. It’s working to improve shipping practices across the board by providing companies with GPS tools they need to monitor and optimise everything from inventory tracking to employee performance.

    It’s a clear example of one form of automation that can essentially improve - but not replace - the workforce.

    RELATED: Brexit becoming too big for cross-border businesses to ignore

    In August 2019 Sync NI shed light on the Belfast firm, Automated Intelligence and the £1.6m investment it raised to expand its data management platform.

    Said platform is designed to be “not vertical-specific,” meaning it can be sold and tailored to a variety of companies to help them modernise their data management. Again, this is a form of automated adjustment in the workplace meant to improve efficiency rather than displace workers with machines or “robots.”

    It seems almost naive to expect that there could be a smooth transition from a potential no-deal Brexit split into an improving, increasingly automated economy. In the long term however, following the early shockwaves Brexit is likely to cause, automation may indeed play a significant role in the development of a new British economy.


    Alyssa Shyanne is a freelance software developer with a passion for all things automation. When she’s not working, Alyssa enjoys documentary films and theatre.

    About the author

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