Robots taking jobs. It’s been the mood music for years, fed by apocalyptic predictions about the rise of the machine and the end of the worker. COVID-19 has turned up the volume, given the challenging recovery and the daily news of more cuts.

How afraid should we be?

The pandemic has been a huge automation proof of concept. As organisations look to grow productivity and cut cost, automation is becoming the poster child for the great reset. Over 70% of UK business leaders think COVID-19 will spark a new wave of automation*. The perceived jobs threat is only set to rise.

But that reflects a one-dimensional view - automation as a cost-cutter - and it misses the point. We’re living in the most compressed period of change ever. According to Microsoft’s CEO, they have seen 2 years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. Organisations are changing almost overnight, accelerating digital adoption and revolutionising how things are done. Change is making new asks of automation, like powering new operational models and supporting digital business transformation. And there’s no going back. Automation has a major role to play in the ‘new normal’. It must accelerate the rate at which we react to the aftershocks of the global pandemic, and, the speed we reshape and reimagine our organisations.

This response to COVID-19 must be creative, not destructive. For automation to be successful, it must protect jobs not take them. If it brings out the best in people, then they will be able to bring out the best in it. By freeing people to create more value and innovate, automation will jump-start more far-reaching change

Think virtuous circle not vicious cycle.

Traditional approaches to automation are not up to the task. But there is a new approach to automation that is: digital process on-demand. It’s a modular, “Lego block” approach to automation that’s built and run in the cloud. Process automations can be rapidly created when needed, scaled to any volumes required, and dissolved when their job is done.

It means people are freed up. The automations do the high volume, low-value, repetitious things, creating the time for humans to deliver higher value work, do the things that increase their job satisfaction, focus on building new skills, and most importantly proact not react.

Does digital process on-demand work?

I’ve seen it operate to great effect in the public sector over the last 2 years. The automations have freed up thousands of people hours, leading to better service and more engaged and satisfied employees.  It is not a zero-sum game. Automation does not need to replace people. Employees are an asset not a cost. When you help them do better, the organisation benefits.

It goes to show that robots can protect jobs as well as the bottom line.

To learn more about this topic, listen to our recent webinar that focuses on “Busting the Big Automation Myths.”

*Pod Group.

Mark Jennings


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