Don’t miss the big Brexit automation opportunity to improve digital skills

Like any major change, Brexit presents both challenges and opportunities for many businesses. It’s an opportunity to exploit new markets, to capitalise on the vulnerabilities of competitors, cut costs, strategically invest and perhaps even to completely reinvent the business. It’s also a massive, galvanising opportunity to look at addressing productivity, which is widely acknowledged as the number one problem for the UK economy.

With many organisations facing the double whammy of a growing skills gap alongside increasingly constrained budgets, resolving the productivity conundrum has proved very difficult. This is leading to more interest in automation technologies including robotic process automation (RPA), which provides a platform for digital workers — smart software robots that collaborate with human workers to do more — faster, easier and better than before.

This is not a fanciful assertion either; it is backed by our recent global automation report that surveyed nearly 5,000 business decision makers and knowledge workers, with 88% believing that RPA is a solution to the productivity problem.

On a wider scale, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts that 133 million new jobs will be created as a direct result of ‘Industry 4.0 innovations’ — a global net gain of 58 million. The nature of some jobs would change, but productivity increases and new opportunities, products, services and companies would coalesce around the incoming technologies, just as they had done with mobility and e-commerce.

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New opportunities

With the emergence of digital workers there are many things businesses can be doing to streamline and optimise their organisations, freeing human workers from boring repetitive activities to focus on more valuable tasks. Digital workers offer speed, accuracy and repeatability that no human workforce could ever achieve. Some organisations are reporting that complex activities are now being performed by digital workers over 90 times faster than before.

The actual impact of RPA is being seen in many ways, not just generating operational efficiencies, incremental cost savings and higher levels of workforce productivity. A Knowledge Capital Partners study — ‘Keys to RPA success‘ — reveals that organisations using RPA are experiencing improved service speed, consistency and quality, faster deployment of new services, improved regulatory compliance, differentiated customer experiences, and more flexible, satisfied workforces too.

Addressing the skills shortage

However, if RPA is to remain a driving force for the post-Brexit economy, we need to re-skill workers too. The Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), which evaluates countries and major cities on their ability to attract, develop and retain talent, has this year ranked the UK 12th out of 132 countries, falling year-on-year since 2015. If we do not take robust measures to develop talent from within, businesses will continue to struggle to attract the staff they need, raising the price of skilled workers and ultimately reducing the UK’s global competitiveness.

Professor Leslie Willcocks, Department of Management, London School of Economics and Political Science indicates that research shows organisations are already experiencing drastic skill shortages which are holding back the deployment of robotic process and cognitive automation. According to WEF, retraining people in these technologies, new human-machine roles, and restructured work processes may require three months per staff member, over the next four years.

Willcocks believes that we are at the early stage in a massive skills shift over the next 12 years, and that much more than just new technical skills are required, as demand moves towards medium to high skills that are more digital, cognitive — and distinctively human — as well as technical.

Contrary to the popular narrative that workplace automation causes job losses, the reality is actually very different. Our research indicates that 83% of surveyed knowledge workers are comfortable with re-skilling in order to work alongside the digital workforce and a further 78% say they’re ready to take on a new job role.

So what can be done to address this challenge? More universities need to enable anyone, anywhere to learn about automation and RPA technologies — to seed the next generation of innovators, disruptors and digital business leaders. It will help meet the growing demand for RPA and cognitive automation skills and equip future business and IT leaders to capture the benefits of these innovative technologies.

Additionally, the UK government must also recognise and support this major RPA-driven opportunity. It must first understand and then embrace this change, so it can play a key role in empowering everyone — at any age — to further drive innovation in the post-Brexit world.

Ultimately, with Brexit-driven market pressures and stakeholder customer demands only set to increase, those enterprises that don’t embrace intelligent automation technologies and other digitally transformative technologies will be left behind.

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6 ways that RPA enables organisations to thrive

1. By increasing productivity — to deliver savings and time back to the business so staff are liberated to refocus on delivering higher value initiatives.

2. New service and product offerings — by delivering those activities that are impossible for humans to perform — due to the required concentration levels, or perform consistently securely or compliantly.

3. Optimising service quality and delivery — with faster, error-free execution, quicker time to market and reduced risks associated with longer response times.

4. Accelerated, innovation and opportunity generation — by equipping business people with the additional capacity and new technological capabilities to easily create new value-generating services and products.

5. Operational transformation — by using actionable insights from automated process transaction data to optimise or reinvent business processes that enhance stakeholders’ experiences and create long-term value.

6. Happy, motivated staff — liberated to work on more intellectually challenging, fulfilling, value-generating work, which is already helping businesses to retain valuable employees.


Peter Walker

European CTO, Blue Prism