Automation and the future of work

Almost three-quarters of executives expect revenue to increase as they implement intelligent automation.

As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, operations can be devastated by unexpected events. Today’s operations must be dynamic, responsive, and interconnected to an organization’s ecosystem and workflows. Businesses that leverage intelligent automation to build these capabilities are poised to address today’s workforce dislocation, supply chain challenges, and 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. AI and automation, or intelligent automation, are altering the way humans and machines interact, in terms of how data is analyzed, decisions are made, and tasks and activities within a workflow or system are performed.

Ninety percent of executives whose organizations are scaling intelligent automation tell us it creates higher-value work for their employees.

In addition to potential costs savings, intelligent automation can vastly enhance an enterprise’s ability to respond, adapt, and thrive in a challenging market. Organizations that build a robust automation program adopt a broad set of technologies, including robotics, bots, and devices, and leverage AI capabilities such as machine learning, natural language processing, augmented intelligence, and computer vision and hearing. Enterprise-wide intelligent automation – the pervasive use of intelligent automation across the enterprise – looks beyond the technologies in use, to the breadth of their application and the extent to which the use of intelligent automation is transforming the way work gets done.

The IBM Institute for Business Value, in collaboration with Oxford Economics, surveyed 1,500 executives from around the world as part of a comprehensive study on the impacts of intelligent automation initiatives today and in the near future. 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, 75 percent of respondents point to customer experiences, while 64 percent say workforce management.

In just three years, the nature of machine work will change dramatically, with the both the percentage of tasks and the level of their complexity growing.

Enterprise-wide intelligent automation

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 human resources, automation allows employees more time to focus on customer-related priorities. And automated workflows can link processes end-to-end, straddling siloes and cutting across functions to expose new outcomes that differentiate an organization from its peers.

Applied in concert, technologies such as AI, automation, IoT, blockchain, and 5G enable organizations to optimize and customize workflows. And these technologies are maturing to a point where they can be deployed and exploited at scale. More than half of executives surveyed plan to increase AI investments in the next three years, while 44 percent will increase robotics investments. And they expect these investments to pay off: 73 percent expect revenue growth from implementing intelligent automation technologies.

“Intelligent automation will optimize business process workflows. We will be able to generate higher revenues while controlling costs.” 

                                                                                              Chief Operations Officer, Chemicals, Mexico

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, optimized, and personalized; they’re dynamic and can flex and scale with ease to create new value. 

This is the era of organizational enterprise automation: intelligent automation scaled and applied across the enterprise. As organizations deploy intelligent automation for more advanced work, the landscape is shifting, with intelligent machines’ tasks expanding from administrative to include more cross-enterprise and expert work. Read the report to learn more about how intelligent automation is making its way across the enterprise and broader ecosystems of collaborative partnerships.

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Meet the authors

Karen Butner, Global Research Leader, Supply Chain, Automation, Virtual Enterprise, IBM Institute for Business Value, Consulting

Tom Ivory, Vice President and Global Leader, IBM Consulting Automation Innovation Unit

Marco Albertoni, Global COO and Head of Strategy and Innovation, IBM Consulting Automation Innovation Unit

Katie Sotheran, Communications and Strategy Lead, IBM Automation, IBM Consulting

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Originally published 23 July 2020