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Automation for Good: Exclusive CXO Update

This article was written by Roger Camrass, Director of Research for CIONET International, and is based on the conversations held during an exclusive CXO update on 6th July. The event was sponsored by UiPath, a global leader in enterprise automation technology.

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The pandemic has focused global attention on building a better social and work environment – what the World Economic Forum refers to as ‘the Great Reset’. Trillions of dollars are being invested in the USA and Europe to stimulate recovery, with special focus on technology-led innovations and change. While automation of office worker tasks has found a broad acceptance in organisations during the pandemic, there is also a growing belief that automation can be a unique force for good. During the discussion digital leaders from across Europe confirmed that automation is not only becoming a cornerstone of a ‘recovery plan’ but also a unique force for good.

 

Automation as part of a recovery plan

There are three elements to a comprehensive recovery plan: survival of the planet, survival of the organisation and survival of the individual & society. Automation can be leveraged to attain a positive impact on lives of people and benefit society.

The Planet

Politicians and industrial leaders need to take urgent steps to curb global warming if we are to avoid a three degree rise in temperature over the coming decades. While IT organisations are seeking to control and limit carbon emissions, few have the data to assess current sources. In the words of one delegate, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it’. On the other hand, we are witnessing an explosion of data from sensors and other remote sources but little is happening with it.

Only automation can help make sense of this data and initiate counter measures at the scale needed for survival. Automation can help extract the necessary information and help make the best choices of how to reduce emissions.

The Organisation

A toxic combination of rampant inflation, energy prices, rising interest rates are placing unique pressures on public and private organisations. The war in the Ukraine has disrupted supply chains at a time when recovery from the pandemic is causing an explosion in consumer demand. But most organisations remain rigidly attached to twentieth century structures and ways of operating. Productivity has been flat for decades. Only automation can deliver the agility necessary to defeat stagnation and achieve growth through digital transformation.

The pathway to a digital economy presupposes that traditional business can undergo comprehensive transformation. Traditional top-down, or ‘big-bang’ transformation programmes typically incur a 70% failure rate. A more successful approach is needed that enables individuals to improve their local environments in incremental steps. The emerging era of robotic process automation (RPA) and associated low-code/no-code can bring about a quiet revolution that has a real chance of success.

The Individual

For many, the pandemic has been a wake-up call that has led to ‘the great resignation’. Tenure in corporate jobs has been compressed from decades to just a few years. The ‘next generation’ workforce is seeking purpose as well as monetary rewards. This implies a more dynamic set of career paths with the associated need for regular reskilling. It is time for our education system to recognise its own short comings and prepare for life-long learning

Equal opportunity for people across the globe is another challenge as educational gaps widen rather than converge. Again, automation can help close the gap. The technology is used to help visually impaired employees work with IT systems or autistic people have shown to excel at working with technologies such as automation. Using their unique attributes, they provide invaluable services to the business.
 

What are the prospects for automation in the coming decade?

Over the last century automation has developed its roots in manufacturing. It is rare to visit a factory today that isn’t populated by robots. Equally, ERP systems have taken over much of the production planning and supply chain management. Recent advances in software as a service (SaaS) have enabled back-office tasks to be automated. However, as much of our economic activity is now in services, we continue to see a profound lack of automation in the front office.

According to UiPath, the next decade will enjoy a revolution on the office floor based on the widespread deployment of software-based robots. As this technology is ‘not IT grade’ but can be deployed by every line of business and office worker, this revolution will happen ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’. And when robots are supercharged by AI and Machine Learning, these intelligent virtual workers can take on the dull and routine work thus augmenting the work of the office staff.

The prospect is that by mid-decade, robots will match the human workforce. Humans and robots will work side by side. This will transform productivity and enable a return to growth.

 

What is the consensus view amongst digital leaders?

For decades IT has been the ‘go-to’ function for business executives seeking answers to complex problems. Delegates were vocal in their view that IT alone cannot move the needle. The most important conclusion of the discussions was the need to bring business and IT closer together to solve today’s macro-challenges.

A consensus of advice was offered:

  • Digital leaders can provide the technology – such as RPA – necessary to close current gaps in vital areas such as productivity, business resilience and sustainability
  • Intelligent automation - RPA combined with AI and Machine Learning - can help bring together, analyse and report from the masses of data that are now available and help guide decision making
  • Automation can be deployed across the entire enterprise eliminating repetitive activities in a fully automated enterprise allowing humans to focus on value-adding activities
  • Integrating legacy assets with RPA is a big step towards improved productivity but IT can go one step further. By reducing legacy assets and accelerating public cloud adoption, organisations can reduce carbon emissions from their current level