It’s hard to attend an industry conference these days without hearing at least one presentation on business or robotic process automation (RPA). Despite the rosy tone of these talks, perceptions of automation tend to be negative: many workers worry that machines will eliminate their jobs — while execs stress over the time and resource investments to reskill those workers.
But when companies talk about why they are adopting automation, they almost always focus on the immediate benefits that’ll be felt organization-wide. When IDC surveyed two focus groups of senior-level digital decision makers in August 2019, almost all said they plan to invest significantly in automation over the coming years. This isn’t just because it looks good in an investor report, but also because they believe it will lower costs, shorten or eliminate processing time, and improve employee productivity.
In fact, according to a 2019 Forrester TEI report commissioned by Adobe, enterprises saved 967 hours per year with Adobe Document Cloud’s automation functionality. These savings were enjoyed not only by IT admins, but also by information security teams and customer service professionals.
What’s more, these benefits reach far beyond the executional level. Our research has found that once workers are trained to get the most out of automated tools, their productivity gets an immediate boost — as does their job satisfaction. They’re empowered to work more creatively, to think more analytically, and to contribute more of the uniquely human insights that’ll remain in high demand.
Let’s take a closer look at how process automation frees up workers to focus on the most impactful aspects of their jobs — unlocking vast potential not only for your employees, but also for your organization.
Automation frees people to focus on more impactful work.
No matter how much we enjoy our jobs, we all occasionally find ourselves wondering, “Is this pile of paperwork really the most productive use of my time and ability?” Imagine if repetitive manual tasks like signing forms, filling out applications, and waiting for approval chains could be automated away overnight. What would you do with all the extra time?
Although your answer may differ from mine, my guess is you’d focus on one or more of the following themes: “I’d use that time to innovate and think more creatively,” “I’d spend more time solving problems from a high-level perspective, instead of getting stuck in the weeds,” or, “I’d devote more time to driving tangible impact on results.”
Now imagine that it’s not just you who gains this bonus time and perspective — it’s everyone in your organization, from receptionists and executive assistants to accountants and customer service reps. According to a recent McKinsey survey, automation can already handle about 50 percent of these job roles, and that percentage will only increase as machine learning technology continues to advance.
For example, consider the administrative assistants who support your execs. With process automation, all the drudgery of aligning schedules and submitting expense reports simply disappears from their workday. After a brief reskilling period, they’re free to focus on creative tasks like designing presentations and problem-solving with external clients — strengthening not only their value in their current job role, but also their prospects of stepping into an executive position someday.
Meanwhile, on the procurement floor, imagine your eagle-eyed auditors suddenly find themselves free of paper-pushing. Now they’re able to follow up on possible fraud cases, or track down blockages in the approval process and make sure the largest purchase orders get approved more quickly. Again, their jobs and income remain secure, but with just a bit of reskilling, automated tools have vastly increased their value and career prospects.
Automation will transform organizational focus over the next 10 years.
Enhancements of your employees’ day-to-day workflows are just the beginning of the process improvements that result from automation. Across the organization, staff are no longer needed for repetitive manual tasks, and as a result, staffing begins to focus less on executional abilities, and more on creative and analytical problem-solving skills.
Consider, for example, the role of graphic designer. Today, much of your designers’ creative energy gets drained off into administrative tasks that have little to do with creativity: tracking down images with suitable licensing, sorting out format compatibility, and generating infinite variations on the same designs. The moment you release your designers from those tasks, you free up vast creative energy for the development of more unique and innovative campaigns.
By the same token, imagine freeing up your marketers from the daily grind of reporting, reviewing, and analyzing A/B test and campaign results. Now they’ve got hours of time and loads of mental energy to focus on optimizing their campaigns from a higher-level perspective. Again, the overall function of the marketing department remains unchanged; your marketers are just better equipped to focus on meaningful improvements.
Analytical and creative thinking may be “nice to haves” for many employees today, but as automation becomes more deeply integrated into every job role, they’ll become absolutely crucial skills at all levels of the organization. In fact, these are precisely the skills that will remain in highest demand throughout the coming decade of automation.
Automation-oriented reskilling helps secure a meaningful future.
From small-business entrepreneurs to global enterprises, the power of automation is rapidly becoming democratized. It’s not just data scientists who are multiplying their capabilities with machine learning and AI — automated toolkits are becoming increasingly essential for marketers, warehouse managers, and HR directors, not to mention sales and legal teams.
In light of these facts, it’s clear that automation-related skills aren’t just crucial for specific job roles — they’re essential life skills for any career trajectory. In five to 10 years, automation will be just as central to your industry as computers and the Internet are today. The workers who succeed in this near-future economy will be those who excel precisely where automation doesn’t do well: critical thinking, analytical problem-solving, and creative innovation.
So how can you begin building these skills out in your organization? Start small. First, identify one initiative or project that’ll reap immediate measurable benefits from automation. Next, sell that adjustment at the executive level. Keep your “experiment” open and transparent to help reduce anxiety and build consensus. And finally, once you’re seeing consistent results, get support to start scaling this transformation across other departments.
We’ve seen this approach work time and again in large enterprises, across industries from finance to media to automotive. In fact, this kind of transformation is especially crucial for established companies that already find themselves behind the curve of digital-first disruption. Even if you’re not investing in automation and reskilling, the new kids on your block are — and many are already enjoying greater agility and innovation as a result.
What’s more, automation and reskilling drive benefits far beyond the balance sheet. By eliminating manual processes, you empower your employees to live up to their full potential — dramatically boosting your retention rate by creating happier, more loyal employees. That’s good for your bottom line, great for morale, and excellent for your brand’s future.