Will 2020 be a breakout year for scaling intelligent automation?

According to a study from Deloitte, 2019 saw a doubling in the number of companies applying intelligent automation — that’s technologies such as robotics process automation, natural language processing and AI — although there is a big overlap with these technologies. (How can you separate AI and natural language processing, how can you process language without AI?). The report also found that executives expect intelligent automation to increase workforce capacity by 30%. Delve deeper into the report, and it states that 2020 will a breakout year for intelligent automation. However, the report also found that a significant proportion of business leaders have not yet forecast the impact automation technologies will have on their employees.  The scaling of intelligent automation seems to be inching its way to a fix.

Intelligent automation and jobs

Speak to those who work in areas such as robotics process automationRPA and they say that automation won’t destroy jobs, rather it will make them more rewarding. For example, Guy Kirkwood, chief evangelist, at RPA company UiPath once told Information Age Age that “one of the big myths of automation is that it replaces jobs, it doesn’t. Most organisations go into automation because they want to reduce head count, that’s what they base their business case on and they are all wrong, that doesn’t happen.

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One of the big myths of automation is that it replaces jobs, it doesn’t. Most organisations go into automation because they want to reduce head count, that’s what they base their business case on and they are all wrong, that doesn’t happen

“What actually happens is they put in automation and then realise that the value of their people is much higher than they thought it was. In almost every case, they are able to re-deploy those people; providing them with high-value work, increase their engagement and raise them up the value chain.”

He then quotes the Chief Executive of an insurance industry customer, who made a somewhat choice comment at a recent event, in which he described what happened after RPA was installed at the company: “The mood music has changed. Our people are happier and we now measure the service in terms of compliments rather than complaints.”

So, is that right? Does the Deloitte report back up this claim?

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David Wright, partner at Deloitte said that “it’s often anticipated that the rise of automation will result in a swathe of job cuts, but our research shows the opposite. While new roles will be created to work in tandem with machines, there will be a greater demand for more strategic and creative thinking which only humans can bring. Automation will amplify the workforce’s intelligence, not mute it. Humans are creative, strategic, tactical and inventive. Robots are better suited to tasks that humans find difficult and dislike.”

Indeed, the Deloitte report found that “just one in eight (12%) executives in organisations implementing or scaling automation say their workforce is unsupportive of it compared to one in three (32%) executives in organisations piloting the technologies.”

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Evidence from UK

This claim is supported by previous Deloitte research focusing on the UK, which found that the roll-out of automation is unlikely to result in a decline in employment, but instead create new roles. In a 15-year period, occupations with the lowest risk of automation created 3.5 million jobs while those occupations with the highest risk of automation lost 800,000 jobs.

Will 2020 be a breakthrough year for Intelligent Automation?

The Deloitte report also suggested that 2020 may be a breakthrough year for scaling intelligent automation.

Maybe there has been too much hype in the past, creating unrealistic expectations. Deloitte said: “Intelligent automation implementations are still exceeding expectations. Organisations piloting intelligent automation expect an average payback period of 15-months, while those in the scaling phase report an average payback after just nine months.”

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One factor holding back the scaling of intelligent automation could be lack of training, with the survey finding that a lack of skills is holding 34% of executives back from scaling intelligent automation. It turns out that this shortage is more pronounced in organisations just beginning to use the technology, with 59% of those piloting automation believing they lack the workforce capacity and skills needed to deliver their strategy.

Justin Watson, global robotic and intelligent automation leader at Deloitte, concludes: “2020 looks to be a breakout year for intelligent automation, as organisations combine robotic process automation with artificial intelligence and other technologies to enable new ways of working. By doing so, automations go beyond the routine to the innovative, from collecting and processing data to predicting, analysing and making contextual decisions. Organisations that reimagine how they work, take advantage of a combination of human and machine workforces, and have the skills and knowledge to harness intelligent automation will be best placed to take advantage of the opportunities the technologies promise.”

Leo Curran, VP Channel, Europe at Automation Anywhere said that “The report firmly echoes what we are seeing: many large organisations have, or are deploying robotic process automation (RPA). And a number are now scaling up as the focus moves from IT or operational siloes and onto the board’s agenda.”

He continued: “A key difference between RPA software and other technologies is that it is not an IT tool for business, it’s a business tool that can be supported by IT. This means scale can be achieved faster, and the much-vaunted digital transformation and productivity gains achieved. But the cross-functional nature of RPA means firms can also benefit from support from third parties like Deloitte to help them navigate the automation journey.”

Or, as Guy Kirkwood sums up: “As organisations move towards an automation-first mindset, the adoption of RPA and AI will become ubiquitous. We already have 65% of the Fortune 500 companies as customers; if you add the customers of our competitors, I fully expect almost every large company to have intelligent automation as part of their operations within the timescales covered by the Deloitte report. The future if work is already upon us.”

But Intelligent automation is not the only fourth industrial revolution technology to see positive reports in the last few days. Take healthtech — a new report finds that healthtech valuations have reached a five year high

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Michael Baxter

.Michael Baxter is a tech, economic and investment journalist. He has written four books, including iDisrupted and Living in the age of the jerk. He is the editor of Techopian.com and the host of the ESG...