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The Economic Opportunity of Automation Can’t Be Ignored – By Allan Leinwand

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Author: Allan Leinwand, CTO, ServiceNow

How often do you find yourself at work feeling both very busy, yet incredibly unproductive? You’re slogging your way through a list of mundane tasks or sitting in yet another meeting instead of working on more strategic projects. You’re not alone. The frenetic pace of work and the constant deluge of data from our mobile and Internet of Things (IOT) devices makes it difficult to get work done. But just as technology takes time away, it can also give time back to us. That, in turn, raises our productivity levels, drives financial growth and creates new jobs.

We conducted a survey* that reveals that a majority of organizations have already introduced advanced automation in their workplace, and yet nearly half of the executives surveyed predict that they’ll require it even more broadly by 2018 to cope with rising work volumes.

Intelligent automation is already transforming our personal lives, with cars that park themselves and the ever-widening selection of smart home technologies. However, the biggest impact of intelligent automation is likely to be in the workplace – fundamentally changing the way we get work done. Automating routine tasks via intelligent automation has the potential to free up skilled employees for high-value work – increasing productivity, innovation and economic growth.

When you consider what tasks consume employees’ time, it’s easy to understand why more companies are embracing automation:

  • 91% say their skilled employees spend too much time on administrative tasks
  • 93% of respondents say that reducing mundane tasks unleashes employee creativity

So, it’s not surprising that a significant majority (94%) agree that intelligent automation could increase productivity. This includes artificial intelligence or machine learning to streamline decision making to improve the speed and accuracy of business processes.

Spurring Financial Growth

We examined companies who had automated at least 70% of their business processes, and compared them to companies who had automated less than 30%. The results show that highly automated companies are six times more likely to experience revenue growth of more than 15%. Additionally, for every 10-point increase in business process automation, revenue growth increases approximately 7.64%.

Improving Productivity Levels

Eschewing investing in automation and hiring more people will not address the declining productivity levels nationwide. Since 2007, productivity increases have averaged just 1.2 percent, which is less than half the 2.6 percent average annual gains turned in from 2000 to 2007. During that time period, the increased efficiency resulting from greater integration of computers and the internet into the workplace drove higher productivity levels.

Adding new workers doesn’t increase productivity, it just spreads the existing workload and drives up labor costs. The only choice is to automate manual processes.

Job Creation

That’s not to say companies won’t need to ramp up their hiring efforts. Forrester sees that through 2027, automation will create 14.9 million new jobs that wouldn’t exist at all otherwise.

Still, change can be scary, so it’s understandable why employees may fear that implementing automation technologies may make their jobs obsolete. But in fact, over the last six decades, automation eliminated only one of 270 occupations that were included in the 1950 US Census: elevator operator.

The banking sector is an excellent example of automation creating new jobs. When banks introduced ATMs in the 1970s as a substitute for bank tellers, the number of bank tellers in the U.S. actually rose by 10% between 1980 and 2010. Why? Because banks refocused the tellers away from conducting simple transactions like deposits on to more strategic, relationship-based services including applying for loans and managing investment portfolios.

We asked our survey respondents how long they believe they have to respond to the ever-increasing pace of work. In other words, when will they need more automation to keep up with the pace of work? How long will it be until they reach the breaking point?

A majority told us that the time is now:

  • 86% report that they would need greater automation by 2020 – and nearly half (46%) said that the breaking point will arrive by next year.
  • 94% of executives agreed that intelligent automation – combining automation with artificial intelligence – would increase productivity.

In other words, we’re at a precipice. We don’t have decades – only a few years at best. Automation must be at the top of every enterprise agenda. Companies with low automation levels must identify and automate high-impact business processes – and those with higher automation levels need to aggressively pursue intelligent automation.

Enterprises are already starting to take action.  54% of companies we surveyed already use intelligent automation in at least one business process, and 87% plan to investigate or use intelligent automation in 2017.

Fortunately, the technology needed to automate business processes exists today. Enterprises can benefit from this technology by taking decisive steps today.

First, decide which business processes that need to be made more efficient. Look across all business units, including HR, customer service and IT to identify where automating specific services will deliver the greatest business benefits. Next, map these critical business services, and automate them using intelligent automation.

There is no longer any time to waste skilled resources on mundane, low-value activities. Every second is critical. Creativity and teamwork are the new currency, and that demands unswerving focus and commitment – unchained from the shackles of routine, manual tasks.

Intelligent automation unlocks this brighter future. By working hand in hand with machines, employees can free their time for what matters – driving better business outcomes, unleashing radical innovation, increasing customer satisfaction, and enhancing service quality. The benefits are clear – accelerating productivity, increased revenue growth, lower costs – yes – job creation.

*”Today’s State of Work: At the Breaking Point,” based on a ServiceNow survey of more than 1,850 corporate leaders—C-level executives, VPs, directors and managers— across seven countries. 

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Allan Leinwand

About Allan Leinwand

Allan Leinwand has built a reputation for managing the world’s most demanding clouds – in B2B and B2C. He is the chief technology officer at ServiceNow responsible for building and running the ServiceNow Enterprise Cloud – the second largest enterprise cloud computing environment on the planet. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing all technical aspects and guiding the long-term technology strategy for the company.