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Blog | Mar 22, 2024

Ending the Chaos of Context Switching

Context Switching
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Streamline Work by Unifying Intelligent Automation

Your organization’s people — including your developers — shouldn’t have to juggle multiple applications to complete their tasks. These activity jumps or “multitasking” are time-consuming, confusing and leave room for errors, as your people switch between numerous screens, each running a different application.

By leveraging an all-in-one intelligent automation (IA) platform, your people can ditch the swivel chair and increase productivity and efficiency. By adding the hybrid cloud deployment capabilities of SS&C | Blue Prism® Next Generation, your developers can deploy digital workers and spin up new environments faster without worrying about multiple systems.

What is intelligent automation?

IA combines robotic process automation (RPA), business process management (BPM) and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate multiple tasks in a seamless workflow, streamlining business processes and boosting productivity.

What is Next Gen?

It’s a cloud-native automation platform that provides access to IA’s capabilities, delivered in a way that’s tailored to your business. With Next Gen, we provide a variety of capabilities that can be deployed in a multitude of ways, all from a single platform.

What Is Context Switching?

In computers …

In computing, context switching is the process of switching between two or more processes, where multiple processes share a single central processing unit (CPU). In a traditional CPU, each process uses various CPU registers to store data and hold a process in its current running state. In a multitasking operating system, it switches between processes so their execution can be processed simultaneously. With every switch, the operating system saves the current state of the running process and then loads the next, which will run on the CPU. This sequence of storing and loading is the context switch.

There are three context-switching triggers:

  • Interrupts: When a CPU requests data read from a disc. Any interruptions cause it to automatically switch to a component of hardware that can handle the interruptions more quickly.
  • Multitasking: A process can be switched from the CPU so another process can run. When the process switches, it retains the previous state so it can continue running at the same spot in the system.
  • Kernel/user switch: When the operating system needs to switch between the user mode and kernel mode. The kernel is the core program relied on by all other operating systems.

But context switching doesn’t just apply to computers. It applies to people too.

In people …

Think of a time when you tried to multitask and accidentally put your phone in the fridge, left the water to boil over or forgot to put one of your socks on. Or those days at work where you scramble to get three tasks done at once or write up a report while sitting in on a video conference and miss half of what’s being said.

Neuroscientists have proven that the human brain cannot focus on two separate tasks simultaneously. Instead, when a person tries multitasking, their brain rapidly switches between activities. As you can imagine, doing this for any extended amount of time is cognitively exhausting, and mistakes creep in.

Think about it. You don’t read a book while you’re driving (at least you shouldn’t). So, why would it make sense to have your employees do ten things at once – especially critical business tasks? Mental juggling isn’t just difficult – it’s scientifically impossible. And this rapid switching between contexts actually takes longer than if a person were to dedicate their focus to one task at a time. In experiments published in 2001 by Joshua Rubinstein, Ph.D., Jeffrey Evans, Ph.D. and David Meyer, Ph.D., Meyer says, “Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40% of someone’s productive time.”

What are swivel chair activities?

You know those revolving chairs we see in almost every office setting? That’s where the term “swivel chair process” comes from. It describes any inefficient task or workflow where a person needs to manually enter the same data into different systems. They’re turning back and forth between activities, sometimes with multiple people doing similar tasks a number of times. Sounds like a pain in the neck, right? It’s also a waste of valuable resources. This manual way of doing things is more prone to human errors, and it leaves your people stuck doing tedious tasks instead of focusing on higher-value initiatives.

Swivel chair activities are quite common in workplaces and often difficult to measure. They tend to exist in a lot of legacy workflows that don’t involve automation. As you can imagine, these tasks pile up and those organizations relying on too much manual effort tend to take a hit to productivity, efficiency and employee satisfaction.

So how does automation solve this?

Automated context switching allows multiple disparate applications to complete a task in one place – creating greater efficiencies and reducing the likelihood of mistakes. In an automation context, imagine a world where you can identify, build, test, deploy, monitor and optimize automation in a single platform. You can seamlessly go from one stage to the next without any hassle.

The whole point of technology like this is to do the things humans can’t or shouldn’t have to do. Why waste valuable human time and creativity on manual tasks when a digital worker can do it faster and more accurately?

What Are the Problems With Context Switching?

  • Impacts focus and productivity.
  • Can cause errors due to disruption and mistakes.
  • Exhausting for your employees.
  • Wastes a lot of time.

Why is context switching bad for productivity?

Constantly moving between applications, searching for information and manually keying in data are all time-consuming tasks – but also necessary. That’s where automation comes in. IA brings together disparate systems, making it easier to orchestrate and streamline workflows.

According to a joint report by Qatalog and Cornell University, people spend around 59 minutes simply looking for information trapped in tools and applications – and up to five hours a week trying to find the information they need.

Now, imagine eliminating that cycle of data searches with a centralized repository, where digital workers have extracted business data and brought it securely into one place that’s easy for your people to find. Data accessibility is key to productivity, which is where a cloud-native deployment stands in the spotlight.

How does this relate to developers?

Context switching can slow down developers when building automations. If they’re managing data and workflows across multiple tools, they’re not focused on developing high-quality, effective automation solutions.

Then, there are the process owners. These are the people in the business who know the process being automated and with whom your developers need to collaborate. This collaboration might require multiple meetings, both in-person and virtual, and using applications like Excel and other whiteboarding tools to document the current processes before you can optimize them and get them ready for automation.

SS&C | Blue Prism® Capture solves this by enabling anyone in the organization to accurately record a process, optimize that process and generate an automation prototype. This can significantly reduce overall development time. With our solution designer, your developer or process analyst can work with the process owner to optimize the captured process before it’s turned into an automated process.

Okay, so we know that constant task switching between multiple systems has a negative impact on your organization’s productivity, but also its people.

So How Do You Tackle Context Switching?

It’s about bringing everything into one, cohesive environment. And the more flexible the environment to suit your business needs, the better.

SS&C | Blue Prism® Next Generation does this by providing a breadth of intelligent automation capabilities delivered in a single unified experience. With its cloud-native platform, Next Gen reduces infrastructure overhead costs and ensures you’re always on the latest version without the exhausting upgrade headaches. But perhaps best of all, Next Gen enables your automation developers to easily create and deploy automations – freeing up your employees from mind-numbing tasks.

How does automation help with context switching?

One of the major ways you can use IA to prevent an overflow of context-switching activities is to streamline your workflows. By deploying digital workers to task-switching, you can reduce the mental strain on your people and see faster turnaround times, reduce process complexity and gain better visibility thanks to IA’s full auditability.

  • Prevent your people from burning out: Constantly shifting between different tasks is exhausting and decreases focus. Automating context switching can alleviate this cognitive overload by streamlining processes and allowing individuals to concentrate on more valuable activities. Juggling between tasks can negatively impact employee morale. By automating these tasks, you can take a more structured approach to task management and transitioning between activities
  • Use your time more wisely: Context switching takes time, but IA can minimize the time spent transitioning between different projects because it does it all automatically.
  • Create better workflows: IA establishes a more structured workflow by automatically prioritizing tasks and managing transitions. This helps you manage tasks and organize projects.
  • Enable better collaboration in your teams: By redesigning your processes so you have fewer systems to jump between, then automating those optimized processes, you can ensure team members are aligned on project priorities, so they know where to put their focus. This can prevent miscommunications causing people to dedicate their time to less valuable work.
  • Establish a consistent approach: IA handles tasks consistently using a standardized, predefined approach. This leads to more predictable outcomes and reduces errors and oversights.
  • Get rid of rework and errors: Humans can make mistakes, especially with repetitive tasks, but digital workers are ready to run 24/7 with 100% accuracy. And with Next Gen deployment, it’s even easier to get them started.
  • Use your resources better: With digital workers handling the gritty work, you can allocate your people resources to initiatives that will grow the business. IA reduces downtime between tasks, enabling a more productive use of your available resources.

What are some strategies to avoid context switching?

Automation can do a lot for your organization’s productivity, but let’s look at some other ways you can keep your teams from being overwhelmed:

  1. Set “do not disturb” times: Permit your employees to put time blocks in their calendars to dedicate as a work block, with no distractions, notifications or interruptions.
  2. Consolidate tools: It’s not just about automating everything. By giving your teams access to one centralized IA tool, you can save them from switching between applications or tracking down the right information.
  3. Cut unnecessary meetings: If your people are swamped with work and tight deadlines, they’re inevitably going to try working while in a meeting. Limit distractions as much as possible and use IA to augment your team’s task management.

Your takeaway: Augment your people’s work with automation because as we’ve proven, humans can’t multitask effectively. Automate some of those menial tasks so your people can focus on one, creating better results for the organization as a whole.

Curious to learn more? Visit the Next Gen information page

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