Productivity is the new driver of automation
For a technology that was once perceived as a tactical means to reduce cost and eliminate inefficient processes, Robotic Process Automation has rapidly evolved into something far more strategic and meaningful over the last three years.
Automation has been widely deployed by many organisations across all sectors for a number of years, primarily to streamline and speed up back-office processes which were highly inefficient due to legacy IT systems and disengaged teams, fed up with performing repetitive and mundane process-driven tasks.
However, new innovation is set to change the way that organisations (and their people) think about automation and how they deploy it within their organisation.
We recently carried out research exploring future drivers for automation amongst businesses who have already deployed RPA technology within their operations.
The study, ‘Taking Automation to the Next Level’, illustrated how those organisations that have already begun their automation journey over the past few years (all of which reported positive results from these early initiatives), are now setting their sights on more strategic objectives as they look to scale up their automation programs.
Indeed, 61% of automation strategy leaders stated that they focused their first automation efforts on under-performing processes, with 42% reporting that cost reduction was their main goal. Less than a third (31%) saw automation as a tool to increase productivity, and only 13% expected automation to deliver tangible business outcomes.
However, as business leaders look ahead to the next five years, the picture is set to become very different. By far the biggest objective for future automation within these organisations is to improve productivity, with 44% declaring that to be the primary goal for their automation programs.
There is also set to be far more focus on automation as a way to deliver improved business outcomes (24%) and improved speed to market (12%).
Within the next three years our industry will reach a highly significant tipping point, where productivity overtakes cost reduction as the biggest driver for automation.
This is the moment at which automation will truly establish itself as a game-changing, strategic business technology with the potential to transform the way that any organisation can run its entire operations, service its customers and expand its services. Indeed, we’re already seeing it happening in pockets across a range of industries, from financial services to utilities.
Intelligent Automation, which combines RPA with artificial intelligence, and additional capabilities such as Natural Language Processing, is now enabling businesses to automate a far wider range of workplace processes, in a fast, effective and secure way.
By integrating AI into their RPA platforms, businesses are moving beyond the tactical automation of basic back-office tasks and processes, (in the contact centre, HR function or accounts department), to more complex and strategic initiatives.
Shifting the conversation to focus on how Intelligent Automation can enable organisations to use their people in a far more effective way. So rather than having highly-skilled talent tied up on executing mundane tasks, businesses can automate processes to maximise the time these people dedicate to strategic, high-value work.
Employers can have their best talent wholly focused on their biggest strategic priorities – transformation and innovation. This is good for the business but also for employees who can undertake far more creative, interesting and rewarding work.
We talk about three waves of adoption. The first wave of RPA deployment is about cost reduction and efficiency. But once you add in AI, organisations can progress onto the second wave, where automation and digital labour drives improved business performance, and the third wave, where the technology delivers genuine business transformation.
Increasingly, organisations will use digital labour to pursue initiatives that they otherwise simply wouldn’t have been able to consider using traditional resourcing methods. Ideas and plans that were once abandoned due to a lack of resource and skills, or prohibitive costs, will no longer be out of reach.
Indeed, our research showed that more than half (52%) of organisations will look to create new or enhanced revenue streams as one of their three main targets for automation initiatives over the next five years.
With this in mind, it is critical that all businesses, whether they are already reaping the benefits of RPA within their operations or yet to start out on their journey, develop automation strategies which can scale easily and at pace. This means ensuring access to the right skills and governance from the outset, and adopting an automation platform which is agile and responsive to rapidly changing business needs.
Of course, business leaders will continue to reach for automation technology as a means to drive efficiencies in a challenging market, but our research clearly shows that they should do so with their eyes wide open to the potential prizes that await them further down the line.