Automation rapidly scaling up across sectors due to COVID-19: Study

As COVID-19 forces an unprecedented amount of workers to stay home, many companies will have no choice but to turn to automation to keep the business running. In the age of social distancing, this means automating processes to ensure employees receive their pay when physical checks can no longer be printed and distributed; customer experience issues are diagnosed while call centers are temporarily closed; and IT service issues are resolved even though employees are working from home offices. Strategically redesigning the roles most immediately impacted by automation will be the key to success.

Based on survey responses from nearly 800 executives worldwide, Bain & Company estimates the number of companies scaling up automation technologies will double in the next two years. The COVID-19 crisis is likely to accelerate this timeline.

?The ongoing crisis forced companies to move their operations remote within a matter of days, underscoring a greater need than ever for automation technology to help maintain business continuity,? said Michael Heric, a partner with Bain & Company, who leads the firm?s global Automation Center of Excellence. ?As companies adapt to new routines and prepare for a pending downturn, automation solutions that might have been years away a few months ago, are suddenly right around the corner.?

According to the report, Intelligent Automation: Getting Employees to Embrace the Bots, companies report cost savings of roughly 20% over the past two years from the implementation of automation. However, nearly 45% of respondents report that their automation projects have not delivered the expected savings. Major barriers to savings include competing business priorities, insufficient resources, and lack of skill.

According to the report, some functions and processes have more automation potential than others. Customer service, IT, finance and accounting, human resources, real estate and facilities management all offer multiple high potential automation activities. Other processes, like legal functions, offer more targeted opportunities for automation. Selecting the right processes and activities is the key to reaping the benefits automation offers.

Companies that lack a rigorous automation agenda risk falling behind in their respective industries. Winning companies will get ahead by proactively addressing execution barriers, while staying especially focused on impacts for employees and customers. Based on Bain & Company?s analysis of the survey responses, combined with strong experience working with companies to apply automation technologies, there are three key principles companies should keep in mind when executing an automation plan:

  1. Ground automation in corporate strategy and customer experience, rather than setting up a standalone exercise. Automation should be part of the senior executive leadership agenda, including sponsorship from the C-suite along with ambitious targets to measure progress. Automation should also further the redesign of the customer experience, in which a cross-functional team defines the desired future state of the experience, working backward on how to achieve it through changes to people, policies, processes and systems.
  2. Spend as much time, if not more, on what comes after automation. Beyond developing, testing, deploying and maintaining the technology, what matters most is achieving the expected business outcomes from the automation. The risk is huge for automation, because much of the work automated consumes only a fraction of each employee?s time. Companies that fail to redesign the jobs impacted will not achieve their goals.
  3. Treat automation as a major change to be actively managed from the start. Part of strong C-level sponsorship involves effectively managing change within the business, so that automation remains a priority. The senior team must demonstrate how automation will change the experience of employees and customers for the better, painting this picture in detail before automation goes live.

?Automation, when executed properly, can free up space in the budget for more high-impact, strategic work, improve the customer experience, and allow upskilled employees to take on more ambitious roles,? said Michael Heric. ?This requires a clear-eyed self-appraisal of the entire organization, understanding and clearing implementation hurdles, and aligning closely with your teams about the positive impact this will have on their day-to-day activities.?

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