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The need for a clear, long-term automation strategy amid rapid adoption

(Image credit: Image Credit: MNBB Studio / Shutterstock)

In light of the rapidly rising levels of technology adoption present even before the Covid-19 outbreak, many predict that the pandemic’s primary impact on the world of business will be an unprecedented uptake in employees working remotely. As a result, businesses will continue looking towards technologies such as AI and RPA as a solution to this reduced reliance on physical workers sharing an office space, accelerating the shift towards automation to enhance overall efficiency.

These factors will in turn pressure boardrooms into re-evaluating their approach to disruptive technologies and the role they play in the organization’s wider digital transformation. This is also borne out by statistics: newly published research has uncovered a notable discrepancy between organizations’ use of automation and the existence of significant strategic and skills-based weak points standing in the way of investment.

While very few leaders and decision makers would dispute the need to embrace sophisticated technology during this time, there is often a crucial step missed out in the process before investment decisions are made - namely, evaluating the available options and how they stand to speed up meeting short- and long-term strategic objectives. This results in a distinct threat that significant resources will be directed towards technology that doesn’t bring organizations closer to their business goals (and in some cases carrying them further way).

Two thirds of businesses are increasing automation investment

Organizations are increasingly placing significantly more emphasis on technology in order to cope with the disruptive influence of the pandemic on global workplace practices. In fact, the same global survey showed that 66 percent of businesses have been driven to increase their investment in automation as a result of the recent lockdown.

This finding also confirms something many already knew: technology adoption is truly a non-negotiable feature of the modern workplace. However, it also illustrates the stark reality that IT decision makers must take their understanding of what’s achievable with these technologies seriously in order to make the most of them at an enterprise-wide level.

A lack of strategic thinking and in-house knowledge/skills is hampering efforts

However, given the volume and variety of solutions available to businesses today, it is now more vital than ever that decision makers ensure each of their investments align with an existing strategic direction that is both known and understood by all employees. After all, the simple truth is that technology should augment human decision making in all cases and free resources where possible, not incorporate added complexity.

Too often IT leaders across industries do not possess a crucial long-term vision when it comes to deploying disruptive technology and automating tasks previously executed by humans. In fact, a lack of strategic thinking in the software-buying process is seen as a barrier to automation investment 30 percent of the time.

It is understandable that decision makers might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tools available to them as digital transformation projects pick up speed and vendors look to take advantage – a ‘complex and commoditized’ automation ecosystem was cited as an obstacle to automation investment by 29 percent of senior IT decision makers.

Nevertheless, this further illustrates the need for business leaders to ‘block out the noise’ and zero in on the specific solutions that they stand to gain from. By focusing on end-goals and the higher level, strategic needs of the business, organizations need only concern themselves with those technologies able to address specific, agreed-upon pain points, which would in itself markedly streamline the process of automation adoption and its positive benefits.

Unfortunately, it seems that a familiar pre-lockdown problem continues to hamper successful automation adoption, after an Open University report from February of this year found that nearly half of business leaders lack essential digital skills - this month’s survey showed that a lack of in-house knowledge/skills was still seen as an obstacle to automation investment 39 percent of the time. This also demonstrates that a lack of a clear, strategic vision for how and where automation should factor into organizations’ business processes may stem from a lack of training in how best to utilize the solutions available to them.

To fully capitalize on sophisticated, disruptive technology, it is imperative that decision makers have a considered and well-thought through plan of action in place before making investment decisions. If this means delaying investing in solutions until comprehensive training and induction has taken place, IT leaders should be confident that doing so will pay off in the long run by ensuring technology is used to its full potential.

The importance of a holistic, top-down approach

While it would be unreasonable to suggest that digital transformation should come without its challenges and hurdles, the proportion of respondents citing a lack of knowledge, skills and strategic thinking as a barrier to investment in automation is both concerning and entirely preventable. The profound and often exponentially positive impact that careful and considered adoption can have on business processes can only be fully harnessed when these are all baked into organizational culture from top to bottom.

Indeed, there are numerous practical steps leadership can take to immediately address these considerations, and to which we have seen a number of companies respond positively. Whether by diagnosing potential opportunities on the horizon, developing a strategic roadmap for long-term success or running tech immersion and executive education sessions, it’s never too late for organizations to take a step back from the myriad of solutions at their disposal and develop a calculated, strategic vision for automation adoption geared towards long-term success.

In recent years organizations have too often implemented technology without a wider consideration for how it fits into long-term business objectives. At a time of such profound disruption and uncertainty, one thing that remains in IT decision makers’ hands is the ability to plan and strategize. It is therefore more important than ever that they prioritize developing long-term strategies for how the rise of automation and the solutions it entails can deliver on the profound potential for sustainable transformation they promise.

David Poole, CEO of emerging technology consultancy, Emergence Partners