An opinion piece from the CEO of Digital Workforce, a provider of intelligent automation services
The acute skills shortage currently playing out across the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere leaves business leaders with limited options − either build a strong employer brand, improve working conditions, increase wages or outsource. All of these approaches require bigger budgets and more resources, further squeezing organizational operations.
Fortunately, there is another way. Today, the most progressive companies are leveraging automation to positively transform their resource management.
Automation has the potential to revolutionize a company’s workforce, easing pressure on its valuable, overworked humans − and for less budget. In industries such as health care, where cost-effectiveness and efficiency are paramount, automation is a hidden hero.
As an example, the U.K.’s health care industry, the difference between vacancies and skilled workers available widened by 50% in 2021 − and there’s no easy way to resolve this skills gap using traditional methods. Many other industries face similar challenges, and as yet the situation shows no sign of improving.
Barriers to implementation
Intelligent automation can alleviate the labor tightness, but we must try to understand why many organizations are yet to embrace it. The technology driving intelligent automation is simple, however implementing intelligent automation across a business can be a complex process.
The first step is digitization of an organization’s infrastructure, which often ends up in time-consuming IT projects that fail to deliver on investment. Technology has the power to enable transformation, but it can also slow things down.
Business leaders are therefore looking for solutions that integrate effortlessly with existing infrastructure, and that are also able to scale as needs develop. Until recently, intelligent automation has not been so easy to apply across a business.
In many businesses, a mindset shift is also needed in order to fully embrace automation. Trust is often an issue; people are skeptical about whether a robot can effectively process a task. We have heard of situations in which automation is applied, and the staff who used to carry out the work are then employed observing the robot’s work rather than moving on to other activities.
This is a huge waste of resources. Employees can also feel threatened, concerned that a robot might make them redundant. However, unlike error-prone humans, robots are 100% reliable and accurate. And yet, they will never fully replace a human workforce.
By tapping into the potential within intelligent automation, employees can be released for more purposeful tasks which can make their job more interesting and rewarding. Organizations can even combine their resources by adding ‘human-in-the-loop’ functionality for verification and validation purposes, if required, so that employees are called upon only when their unique skills are needed.
Identifying work that can be automated
The next step is identifying the tasks most suited to intelligent automation − typically these are repetitive, high-volume tasks. For example, a health care organization automated the lengthy process of referring patients for tests. This work included many administrative jobs requiring no medical training, such as communicating negative results.
However, health care staff were still required to spend their precious hours managing them. Applying intelligent automation across the process essentially allowed it to read information about each request, classify it, and type in the necessary details. After carrying out this work and seeing the results, the organization set the goal of using this technology to release 600,000 hours of health care staff time over three years.
Let’s also take an example from the banking sector, where legal regulations are tightening to protect against financial crimes. This work involves comparing data sets and so can easily be automated, saving on outsourcing the work to third parties.
Automation ensures that banks are fully compliant while removing the risk of errors. It also centralizes control, and when demand increases it can easily be scaled up. Intelligent automation is therefore a cost-effective and efficient way to address the skills shortage within these industries.
These concepts can be applied within many other sectors. In addition to automating existing work processes, the very interesting aspect of robotics means that processes can be designed and automated that didn’t exist before. This means that organizations can bring a new service to the market or improve an internal process without bringing in new staff.
Your future workforce is digital and human
It’s not a case of choosing either robots or humans − digital and human workforces are complementary. In the climate of a widespread talent shortage, we must learn to leverage the right resource at the right time.
Early adopters of intelligent automation are gaining a competitive edge, which is crucial during times of uncertainty. By utilizing cloud-based automation, businesses can build a strong foundation of automated processes that can easily be scaled up or down as required. Leaders looking to future-proof their businesses must now consider the opportunities afforded by intelligent automation, in order to stay ahead of the curve.