The need to automate routine work has never been higher

In a new ServiceNow study, business leaders say they are overloaded with data and that manual processes squelch creativity, productivity and revenue generation

The need to automate routine work has never been higher

Anyone who has been in the workforce for any significant length of time probably feels like their workload has grown tenfold, but they likely brush it off to getting old or maybe being burned out. The fact is, however, the extra workload is very real. 

This week, as part of its Knowledge17 event, ServiceNow released a study called “Today’s State of Work: At the Breaking Point” (pdf) that shows how bad the problem currently is. 

Before I get into the details of the survey, it’s important to understand the demographics. The report summarizes a survey of about 1,850 business leaders, including C-level executives, vice presidents, directors and managers in seven countries, to understand the workload of business leaders, the impact of automation and the opinions on the future of work. 

Organizations overloaded with data

The study is the opinion of actual business leaders about the challenges their organizations will face and the role of automation. Some of the more salient data points from the study include following: 

  • Workers are overloaded with data today, and by 2020, 86 percent of companies say they will hit a breaking point where they will be buried under the massive amounts of information being generated.
  • Seventy-five percent of respondents said data being generated from mobile devices and the Internet of Things contribute to the overload.
  • By 2018, 46 percent of companies will need to automate more processes to handle the volume of work that needs to be done.
  • Almost all respondents, 94 percent, agree that intelligent automation can increase productivity. This includes artificial intelligence to make faster decisions leading to improved speed and accuracy of business process.
  • Currently 54 percent of survey respondents have started using intelligent automation in one or more business processes. Also, 87 percent plan to use intelligent automation moving forward.  

I like how ServiceNow distinguishes between “automation” and “intelligent automation.” Automation is finding a way to have a machine complete a certain process. For example, a self-driving car can be programmed to follow a path to its destination. Intelligent automation, on the other hand, incorporates machine learning to improve the process. In the self-driving car example, intelligent automation would constantly analyze data to re-compute the best possible path instead of taking the same one repeatedly.

No need to fear intelligent automation

Automation of business processes has been a highly controversial topic for years, as there are fears that the combination of automation and AI will wipe out many jobs. It’s critical to understand that these tools help a worker be more efficient and actually get more work done.

For example, a mortgage broker may be overwhelmed by having to complete more and more loans using manual processes. Machine learning can be applied to streamline many of the processes involved in gathering and analyzing the data, allowing the mortgage broker to spend more time looking at different options for the customer, which provides a higher level of service. Intelligent automation should lead to more productive employees and greater profitability, and the study seems to bear that out. 

The ServiceNow study found that highly automated organizations are six times more likely to grow revenues of more than 15 percent versus companies with small amounts of automation. As an example, businesses that have seen revenue growth of over 20 percent are 61 percent automated. Juxtapose this with organizations with only 35 percent automation that have flat or declining revenue.

Within companies, IT was seen as the best at creating process efficiency with automation. On the other hand, human resources was thought of as the worst—and the department most in need of a reboot. HR is filled with a number of repetitive tasks that could easily be automated, leading to higher employee satisfaction when the person joins. Taking a person that excited about joining a company and running them through the obstacle course that is HR processes will certainly get that worker’s tenure in that organization off to a bad start.  

Another significant finding in the report is that manual processes are squelching creativity. About half of the respondents said work levels have increased by 20 percent in the past 12 months. Also, 91 percent of executives are of the opinion that skilled and well-compensated employees spend too much time doing administrative tasks, which can kill productivity.

How to become an automated buisness

Saying you want to automate the business and doing it are obviously two different things, and getting started can often be the hardest part. To help kick things off, ServiceNow put together the following set of steps to become a highly automated business: 

  1. Identify business processes that need improving in HR, customer service, IT or other departments.
  2. Map out the critical business services, and automate the workloads with intelligent automation.
  3. Work with teams to address concerns and provide reassurance for your roadmap.
  4. Employ best practices around change management.
  5. Develop and evolve the team’s skills to help them thrive in an automated world.

The concept of automation is often viewed as something new that can put a company at risk. Given the deluge of data coming and the need to process and analyze it quickly to meet customer demand, I believe it’s far riskier to not implement intelligent automation. I strongly urge all business and IT leaders to embrace it and transform their companies.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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