Automation is not the enemy

The value of AI is in saving humans time, not replacing them.

by Andrew Filev
Last Updated: 04 May 2018

A survey last year by the Royal Society for the Arts predicted that robots could replace four million private sector jobs within the next ten years in the UK. The results of the research generated widespread media coverage. Without question, research like this contributes to the narrative being perpetuated around the increase in automation (or artificial intelligence) equalling the demise of the human workforce.

Fortunately, the tide seems to be slowly turning toward a more realistic outlook – a world where artificial intelligence (AI) can enhance the experience of work for individuals, and increase value to businesses.

People in leadership roles, in any sector, ignore the role of AI at their peril. A recent report from PwC showed that UK GDP will be more than 10% higher in 2030 as a result of AI – the equivalent of an additional £232bn – making it one of the biggest commercial opportunities in today’s economy.

This is not simply the domain of manufacturing where the role for ‘robots’ is obvious. What we are talking about is eliminating the low-level, cognitively routine tasks dominating just about any office in the UK today, creating a drag on morale and impacting efficiency because they take people away from their ‘real’ work.

From a leadership perspective the benefit of automation is clear: increased productivity. This boost to productivity becomes increasingly critical as expectations around response times and product or service customisation grow. In a world dominated by the ultimate in on-demand personalisation (think Netflix and Amazon Now, to name just two), giving your workforce the ability to address these increasing demands without contributing to burnout is a pressing question.

We know that the most competitive and successful businesses consistently do three things: they focus on increasing productivity and boosting quality. They strive to increase visibility and repeatability in order to manage their work more effectively. And they focus on building a high-performance culture. AI can contribute to each of these areas.

What does AI in business look like?

Automation is simply a piece of the ‘operational excellence’ puzzle that so many businesses strive for today. The Harvard Business Review recently published findings from an extensive, 10-year study of 12,000 companies on the importance of operational excellence and found that companies able to achieve a high standard of excellence delivered $15M (£10.6M) in larger profits, 25% higher growth rate, and a 75% increase in productivity on average compared to other companies. And for the companies willing to embrace it, automation holds the key to next level operational efficiency.

In a survey we did among 3,000 workers in the UK, France and Germany,  we found people willing to embrace automation if it meant freeing up valuable time. The tasks causing the greatest inefficiencies and frustrations for workers, according to the research were:

  • Creating and sending sales or marketing emails
  • Scheduling meetings
  • Documenting action items from meetings
  • Copying information between systems
  • Preparing reports for executives
  • Searching for the information required to complete tasks (according to Forrester, people can spend up to 35% of their time simply looking for the information they need to do their work, rather than doing the work itself)
  • File management and documentation
  • Routine processes and workflows
  • Assigning work to the right team member 

In order to embrace automation, it is important to recognise where the potential for automation lies. The list above would seem familiar in most businesses. And the technology already exists to help businesses streamline many – if not all – of these processes.

Automation alone isn’t going to help you dominate your market. It is merely a tool to help you scale your business without scaling the associated chaos. What automation will do, though, is give you confidence that repeatable tasks in your business are being handled, and nothing important is falling through the cracks.

It also increases the value of the minds in your business by giving them more time to think creatively and restore some balance to their lives, reducing stress, preventing burnout and ultimately helping you build a better and more sustainable business in the long run.

Andrew Filev is CEO and founder of Wrike.

Image credit: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

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