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Will a robot take my job? Automation has more to give than it will take

By Julia Gabel
Sat 12 Aug 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Since the introduction of automation, robots and artificial intelligence (AI), people have feared being outdone, and entirely replaced – it is easy to see why.

When a precisely assembled computer system, with no concept of exhaustion or error, replaces human muscle, there is an inevitable apprehension that technology will soon render certain jobs obsolete.

Contrary to popular belief, there is more to the automation narrative than this single point of view.

Instead of simply delving into what automation can do for us, let us take a step back to imagine the world without automation.

You, just like 100 other employees, sit at your desk feeling both very busy, yet incredibly unproductive. Instead of working on strategic value-adding projects, you are weighed down by a whole list of mundane tasks.

Instead of generating actionable insights, you are slogging through manual data entry from an endless stream of data. If these additional two hours of busy work does not seem to amount to much, aggregate the total hours all 100 employees spend and it becomes a whopping 200 hours of unproductive work.

For any CEO, that is 200 hours of wasted man hours and lost opportunities.

A survey that ServiceNow conducted painted a similar picture, with 91% of leaders saying their skilled employees spend too much time on administrative tasks.

To plug this gap, automation effectively replaces routine work, freeing up employees’ time to do high-value work that requires creativity and problem-solving.

Driving Financial Growth

We studied companies who had automated at least 70% of their business processes and compared them to companies who had automated less than 30%.

The results underscored 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%.

Boosting Productivity Levels

Shunning automation while hiring more people will not address the declining productivity levels nationwide. 

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

Job Creation

Automation and employment need not be as mutually exclusive as it is often assumed to be. A “Future of Jobs” report by the World Economic Forum affirms that technological advancement, amongst other social factors will create 2.1 million new jobs by 2020.

In fact, Forrester also predicts that 14.9 million jobs will be created because of automation, by 2027.

In Singapore, leading adopters of automation have demonstrated that automation leads to redesigning of work rather than cutting jobs, eliminating mindless duties and freeing up employees to engage in tasks higher up the value chain.

At KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), its Emergency Pharmacy serves one of the busiest A&Es in Singapore where every minute is a matter of life and death. Relief comes in the form of a robotic bottle dispensing system (BDS) that automatically loads, picks, assembles and labels medication bottles, before it is sent for a final safety check by staff.

With the time freed up by automation, pharmacy staff were able to take on more specialized tasks like safety checks and communication with patients, eventually leading to more satisfied customers and more fulfilled employees.

In fact, 45% of employees in Singapore share a mutual confidence that automation will make their jobs better.

Beyond redesigning routine work, the market of automation itself presents an entire ecosystem for growth opportunities. With a burgeoning demand for constant innovation, the workforce of today will be largely knowledge-based.

A new generation of skilled workers will be required to pioneer groundbreaking ways of facilitating human-machine collaboration, maximizing the potential for higher productivity and innovation.

Investing When the Time Is Ripe

We asked our survey respondents when they envision themselves reaching breaking point, where they would eventually require automation to cope with the growing demands of work.

9 out of 10 companies told us they will hit breaking point within the next year, and require new methods of automation to manage the expanding work volumes by 2020.

It becomes clear, then, that the time for automation is now. We don’t have decades, only a few years at best.

Automation must be at the top of every enterprise’s 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.

The good news is the tools needed to automate business processes exist today.

Enterprises stand to benefit from this technology by taking decisive steps today.

1. Identify which business processes that need to be made more efficient. Look across all business units, including HR, customer service and IT.

2. Map these critical business services, and make use of intelligent automation.

3. Retraining employees with updated skill sets will equip them well to meet new demands of their responsibilities and thrive in an automated world.

There is no longer any time to waste skilled resources on mundane, low-value activities. Every second is critical.

Intelligent automation need not be perceived as a rival, but rather a stepping stone to push companies to unlock their potential, and achieve more in shorter time spans – from enhanced productivity, higher growth values, reduced spending, and ultimately, job creation. 

Article by Jimmy Fitzgerald, vice president and general manager, Asia-Pacific and Japan, ServiceNow

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