Recently IDC has published the whitepaper Automation as a Force for Good – 6 Steps to Transform Theory into Practice. In this study authors Angela Salmeron and Neil Ward-Dutton discuss the role of automation in supporting companies with their ESG programs, given the trend that 47% of organizations are planning to introduce Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to the workplace in the next 18 months, 39% intend to implement other process automation technologies (including workflow automation), and 63% are planning to add task-focused apps on mobile devices.
“Automation software, or RPA, is at the moment the most pervasive and the most predominant type of technology deployed across organizations”, says Angela Salmeron, Future of Work Practice Lead at IDC. ”We are seeing use cases multiplied by the minute. At first it was very much back office, now it is also in the front office – it is everywhere. And it’s not just IT: automation supports employees but in front office, bookings, administration, etc. It’s all about cost efficiencies. Not by savings in terms of headcount by the way, it’s about helping people in their job.”
However, for both enterprises and employees to fully benefit from automation, it’s crucial that the former take steps to implement change management policies and foster education about the advantages of implementing automation to the workplace. Firstly, it’s important for employees to know what automation can do for them. Secondly, what it will not do. “The mission for the RPA industry is to change perceptions across organizations,” she says. Because you obviously have two things. The first is managers trying to implement technology. Employees on the other hand want to know if this technology is going to replace their job.”
The opportunity brought by RPA is to automate processes; not to replace jobs but to transform them. This is the future of work. Thanks to automation, employees gain for example 30% of time back with automation because they don’t have to carry out the same repetitive task over and over again throughout the day. Thanks to these time savings, businesses have an opportunity upskill their workforce while at the same time driving efficiency across the organization.
The perception that technology has an uneasy relationship goes back many decades and is very pervasive. However, with software automation we can change all that. During the Fourth Industrial Revolution, as the World Economic Forum calls it, the advent of intelligent technologies like automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, and other technologies is going to present us with a world of opportunities.
Towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution
“This Fourth Industrial Revolution, , is still about the stakeholder capitalism, which every board addresses,” Salmeron explains. “In this stakeholder capitalism, which has advocates among very big companies, it is all about creating value, not just for shareholders with financial output, but also for other stakeholders: employees, society, the planet.”
As the report states Without clear goals and direction, organizations risk missing out on the full potential of automation and overlooking its ability to enable social impact. Even more so, it is now easier than ever for automation to be unintentionally implemented in ways that run counter to the positive societal and business outcomes that organizations so often say they want to deliver. In essence, this means that companies with strong ESG program are better able to attract and retain employees.
Salmeron adds: “This is where a sense of purpose comes into play. You want to work for a company that you feel connected to, where you feel you can make an impact. I think the future of work is going in that direction: people want their job to be purposeful and meaningful. And making jobs more purposeful and meaningful is a task many leaders are faced with today”
Why ESG programs need executive sponsorship
Employees are increasingly attracted to those businesses that give back to society and play a role in their respective communities. “How can you get your employees on board? What is the mission of your company?” These are all questions business leaders should ask themselves and see the exercise as an opportunity for many companies to start developing a solid ESG program. Obviously, the environment right now is top of the agenda. But it’s not just the environment, it is about society as well.”
However, this is not a job handled exclusively by any one department. It is an issue that needs to include the involvement of top level executives in order to create synergies that further drive the ESG agenda forwards : “When we talk about leaders, it’s about the CIO, the CTO, or maybe the CEO, the CFO, and probably the CHR or Chief Talent Officer and Chief Digital Officer. And the Chief Innovation Officer is a good leader to bring on board because of the time you have saved with automating tasks. They all need to sit together and define a plan, with stakeholder capitalism in mind,” Salmeron says.
Automation for the benefit of society at large
These stakeholders are of course employees and customers, but it’s also the planet, and for example neurodiverse people. “Technology for good can help in all these cases. We know automation during the pandemic has done a fantastic job helping both nurses and administrative people by automating tasks, not by replacing people but giving efficiency to processes,” Salmeron explains
“With neurodiversity, particularly writing code, automation, is something that you can do from your own home. In particular, people on the autistic spectrum can excel at creating software robots, or test automation, as their unique capabilities are very well suited to such tasks.” Salmeron says..“Aas for the planet, technology for good can optimize energy consumption. In the paper we gave some good examples about know how automation for good can benefit the world.”
As the report states: History proves that technology advances have led to an increase in incomes and stable employment trends. The same can be applied to automation and other intelligent technologies in this new era. By taking control of our future, technology and automation can therefore transform all industries with the potential to bring extraordinary prosperity and societal benefits in the long run.