Businesses turn to automation in COVID-19 response

Two thirds (68%) of business leaders used automation to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Deloitte on robotic and intelligent automation. The survey of 441 executives from 29 countries highlights that the pandemic forced organisations to rethink how work is done. Around three in four (73%) of organisations worldwide are now using automation technologies – such as robotics, machine learning and natural language processing – up from 58% in 2019.

On a wider level, the number of organisations deploying automation at scale has tripled in the space of two years, with 13% of respondents saying that their organisation has implemented over 50 automations, up from 8% in 2019 and 4% in 2018.

Justin Watson, partner and leader of Deloitte’s robotic and cognitive automation practice, said: “Automation has been a lifeline for businesses during the pandemic – allowing for rapid increases in processing capacity, new processes to support the response, increasing productivity and accuracy, whilst also improving the experience of customers and employees.

“As organisations scrambled to support home working en-masse and provide COVID-secure work sites, automation took the strain to ensure business continuity. For instance, by triaging requests to allow contact centre agents to manage the higher number of calls and emails, or accelerating the validation of loans from financial institutions. In the months ahead, investment in automation technologies will continue to flow with the direct aim of bolstering organisational resilience.”

According to Deloitte's latest UK CFO survey, business transformation is the number one area for business investment in the next 12 months, with two thirds (65%) of UK CFOs expecting to increase investment in organisation and business process improvements, such as restructuring, streamlining and automation, over the year ahead.

To prepare for the disruption automation will bring to their organisations over the next three years, business leaders expect that they will have to retrain 34% of their workforce because their roles will sufficiently change as a result of the implementation of new automation technologies. Today, one in four (23%) workers has seen a change to their role and ways of working because of the implementation of these technologies, while one in ten has already had to retrain because their role has been affected by automation.

However, 58% of organisations have not yet calculated how their workforce’s roles and tasks, and the way tasks are performed, will change. Dupe Witherick, senior manager in Deloitte’s robotic and cognitive automation practice, said: “Leaders must keep in mind that successful automation is not only about new technologies, it's about people. A worrying number of leaders are yet to consider how their workforce will be disrupted as a result of automation. Understanding this will serve two benefits – firstly, to highlight the skills that workers will need to ensure new technologies are rolled-out and managed in an efficient way and secondly, to pave the way to change workers’ perception of automation from a rival to an asset.”

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