A more meaningful workplace with automation

Automation Anywhere
By Tim Ebbeck*
Monday, 03 June, 2019

A more meaningful workplace with automation

Rather than fearing it, it’s critical for organisations to recognise the role RPA plays in growing and engaging the workforce.

Today, 71% of the tasks performed at work are completed by humans. By 2025, it will be machines, not humans, that take on most of these tasks. Predictions such as these have, for years, been the root of angst among workers and those preparing to enter the workforce. This angst is based on a perpetual concern that if robots can do our jobs, where does that leave us humans?

I believe that concern is a myth.

It’s so easy to forget that no period in modern history has been spared disruption. It was the First Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s that forced people to reskill for the first time. Ever since, there has been continual and consistent disruption. Less than 100 years ago, Australia’s workforce was principally engaged in primary production, agriculture and manufacturing. Today, we’re heading toward an economy with closer to 90% of people employed in services. And record employment levels!

So, perhaps data might actually tell a different story. That rather than destroying jobs, automation promises to make work more dynamic, less mundane — and more human.

Enter robotic process automation

Put simply, robotic process automation (or RPA) gives organisations the ability to create their own software robots to automate any business process. Think of these ‘bots’ as your digital workforce — show them what to do, then let them do the work. Smart bots can learn and interact with any system or application the same way human workers do, but faster, with more accuracy and for longer, free from coffee breaks and sleep. The idea is simple: allow machines to do what they do best — repetitive tasks performed quickly and accurately — and free up humans to deliver their best creative and decisive work.

The rise of the digital workforce

Fear that automation equals job loss is overblown. In fact, the World Economic Forum reports an evolution of machines in the workplace has the potential to create 58 million net new jobs over the next four years.

The job market is a recycling machine, creating new jobs that sometimes stem from the phasing out of old ones. Word processors, typists, telephone operators and proofreaders are largely a thing of the past now. Still, a vast number of highly desirable jobs today — software engineers, financial advisors, analysts, chief digital officers — didn’t exist 30 years ago.

According to a recent study we conducted with Goldsmiths, University of London, an overwhelming majority of global business leaders (3 in 4) say person-to-person collaboration is critical to business success. Despite this, employees today spend an average of 30% of their workday interacting with outdated, bloated technologies and machines rather than with one another!

Why? Because as a workforce, we’ve spent the past few decades teaching people to do jobs computers should be doing: checking and validating information, entering data, comparing fields in Excel spreadsheets, copying and pasting information. In short, we’ve taught people to do the jobs of computers and be more robotic.

Now with the rise of bots and what we’re calling the ‘digital workforce’, technology is taking on mundane tasks, freeing up people to hone their truly human skills that can’t be automated — identifying problems and how to solve them, and collaborating with other people.

RPA in the real world

For organisations, the benefits of a blended workforce of humans and bots are clear: reduced operating costs, increased productivity and improved quality by eliminating human error. But the benefits extend far beyond the bottom line.

Contrary to popular belief, rather than feeling undervalued, employees in automated workplaces are 38% more engaged than their peers in non-automated environments. Not only are they more engaged, 70% of respondents in our research claim automation has actively improved the wellbeing of their teams.

In some ways, these figures are unsurprising. As humans, we’re creative beings, and out-of-the-box thinking, collaboration and passion are all traits that distinguish us from machines. One industry that remains ripe for RPA is human resources (HR).

The role of HR professionals is inherently people-focused — hiring, training and sustaining employee engagement. But this, and recruitment in particular, brings huge volumes of paperwork — from data gathering and form filling, to request processing. There’s no system readier for automation than human resources management systems (HRMS).

One organisation that realised the benefits of automation for its HR function was a global financial institution providing financing, policy advice and technical assistance to developing countries. With more than 10,000 employees hailing from 170 different countries, and stringent compliance requirements, a team of five workers was used to manually sort, file and enter thousands of forms on the company’s HRMS.

By deploying a digital workforce, the HR team was able to automate these processes and schedule daily deployments to manage these tasks and enter files into the HRMS automatically. The result? Cost savings of $1 million, zero errors and 70% time savings on form filling.

Are bots right for your workforce?

For organisations starting out, there are four cultural characteristics that influence the success of an RPA rollout:

  1. A learning culture. An organisation that values a learning culture enables and encourages workers to continually develop their skills in ways that benefit the organisation while increasing employee satisfaction and engagement. Workplaces with an open culture that fosters learning are also more likely to augment and to do it successfully.
  2. Growth mindset. Our research found a positive correlation between organisations that fostered a growth mindset — collectively and in their individual employees — and the ability to maximise benefits from RPA-based augmentation within the workforce.
  3. An engaged workforce. Engagement is when employees are passionate about and feel a personal connection to their job, investing energy and their personality into their work. Our survey found that organisations planning to adopt RPA and artificial intelligence-based augmentation show lower levels of engagement than those who already invest in it. For instance, augmented enterprises were 41% more likely to encourage their employees to seek opportunities for professional growth.
  4. Ethics first. There is a strong link between successfully creating a culture of engagement and valuing organisational ethics. Augmented enterprises were 31% more likely to prioritise high ethical standards in their business and their interactions with employees.

In the same way that many of us had to learn to work with computers, working alongside bots will one day become second nature. So rather than fearing it, it’s critical for organisations to recognise the unique role RPA plays in growing and engaging the workplace, and how they can bring their workforce along this journey.

*Tim Ebbeck is Senior Vice President and Managing Director for Australia New Zealand at Automation Anywhere.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/peshkova

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