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Automation and the Future of Work

The intelligent automation opportunity
As evidenced by COVID-19, operations can be devastated by unexpected events, whether pandemic, foodborne illness, severe weather disruptions, geopolitical change, or even international trade policy changes. Executives know this all too well and continue their efforts to create more resilient operations across enterprise functions.

Today’s operations must be dynamic, responsive, and interconnected to an organisation’s ecosystem and workflows. This requires end-to-end enterprise visibility, real-time insights, and decisive actions—particularly in escalating situations. Businesses that leverage intelligent automation to build these capabilities are poised to address today’s workforce dislocation, supply chain challenges, an customer service disruptions—and to thrive in tomorrow’s recovering market.

Over the decades, automation has touched most industries—from the factory floor to banking transactions and oil refineries. But intelligent automation enables change at a whole new level. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation—together they become intelligent automation—alter the way humans and machines interact, in terms of how data is analysed, decisions are made, and tasks and activities within a workflow or system are performed.

In addition to potential costs savings, intelligent automation can dramatically enhance an enterprise’s ability to respond, adapt, and thrive in a challenging market. Organisations that build a robust automation program combine a broad set of technologies, including robotics, bots, and devices, with AI capabilities such as machine learning, natural language processing, augmented intelligence, and computer vision and hearing. A blend of the appropriate technologies for the task at hand supports intelligent workflow efficiencies but can also help drive revenue and profit.

The automation landscape
Executives surveyed tell us that in three years, the two most important elements in defining competitive advantage will be the customer experience and workforce skills. They also tell us that digital initiatives can greatly influence those elements: When asked where their digital initiatives deliver the highest value to their organisation, 75 percent of respondents point to customer experiences, while 64 percent say workforce management.

Automation can enhance the customer experience by enabling more rapid and effective responses based on new data-driven insights. In addition, by shifting certain tasks away from humans, automation allows employees more time to focus on customer-related priorities.

With the right data, many decisions—relating to both customers and routine business processes—can be automated. And with automated workflows, bots can perform mundane, recurring activities, again liberating the workforce to focus on more complex decisions, highervalue tasks, and new roles. In addition, automated workflows can link processes end-to-end, straddling siloes and cutting across functions to expose new outcomes that differentiate an organisation from its peers.

Applied in concert, technologies such as AI, automation, IoT, blockchain, and 5G enable organisations to optimise and customise workflows. And these technologies are maturing to a point where they can be deployed and exploited at scale. For example, AI implementations are on the rise, with 55 percent of respondents planning to increase AI investments in the next three years. Forty-four percent of respondents say their organisations will increase robotics investments. Edge computing and 5G investments are also expected to increase, while augmented/virtual reality investments will remain steady.

Our research also revealed that executives are investing an average of 59 percent of their information technology (IT) budget on technologies related to intelligent automation, including AI, cloud computing, connected IoT, and robotics. And executives expect those investments to pay off: 72 percent expect revenue to increase as they implement intelligent automation technologies and practices.

Intelligent automation helps improve efficiency and reduce costs—and enables creation of new business models. Optimised workflows allow for cost control in tandem with growth. Quote – “Almost three-quarters of executives expect revenue to increase as they implement intelligent automation technologies and practices.”

It is the convergence of automation technologies that enables transformation. Deploying them in concert, not discretely, amplifies their effects. Implementing intelligent automation across an enterprise establishes a human technology partnership that can improve and scale over time at a rate that exceeds traditional technological progress. These intelligent workflows aren’t just automated, optimised, and personalised; they’re dynamic and can flex and scale with ease to create new value.

Action guide

Automation and the future of work
Intelligent automation is making its way across the enterprise and the broader ecosystem of collaborative partnerships. We offer a set of high-level actions to help guide your organisation to the era of enterprise-wide automation.

Digitise work, then infuse AI
Leverage the full range of automation technologies to digitise work. This goes beyond automating tasks and requires reengineering processes to create new intelligent workflows. Use AI technologies and cognitive solutions to reveal patterns that might otherwise go undetected, and use the insights to enable responsiveness, particularly in times of uncertainty and rapid change. AI systems not only consume data much faster than humans, they also can learn from interactions and respond accordingly. Intelligent automation leverages these capabilities to enable a new class of intelligent products, services, and workflows that can reason and learn with the support of AI in real time.

Orchestrate new operating models
Look for ways enhanced intelligent automation can improve customer, employee, and partner experiences to create competitive value and differentiation. Create differentiation through agile workflows and in-the-moment processing. Improve responsiveness through actions based on timely customer, employee, and partner insights. Establish enhanced measurement and reporting tools to communicate business impact to support executive sponsorship.

Prepare your people
Intelligent workflows allow you to leverage digital workers to augment your workforce. Intelligent automation can help support your organisation’s core strengths, supplement additional resources to balance any weaknesses, and empower employees to focus on higher level work. Educate your teams about intelligent automation capabilities and benefits to engage them in shifting responsibilities to intelligent automation. Remember that this is not a “once-and-done,” but an ongoing effort to keep skills and engagement programs in pace with advancing technology.

How IBM can help
Forward-looking enterprises utilise automation and AI to augment their core strengths, supplement their weaknesses, and empower their people to focus on what’s important. Intelligent automation enables your entire organisation to be “always-on,” optimising the delivery of goods and services to provide seamless continuity in dynamic markets.

With a diverse set of intelligent workflow solutions, IBM can guide your digitization journey to automate more types of work at greater speed and lower cost, helping you adapt and thrive by turning momentary challenges into long- term opportunities. Get started with IBM AIOps