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Automation with intelligence

Pursuing organisation-wide reimagination

Our global intelligent automation survey looks at the impact of COVID-19 on automation strategies and the use of cloud and automation-as-a-service to ensure scalability and rapid deployment.
Gina Schaefer
Anastasiia Polner
Tanya Telford

THE ubiquity of robots in the workplace has been a foregone conclusion for many years now, despite a history of uneasiness on the part of humans. Now, a perfect storm of circumstances seems to be finally landing intelligent automation a permanent place in day-to-day business operations. According to Deloitte’s recent annual global survey of executives, 73 per cent of respondents said their organisations have embarked on a path to intelligent automation: a significant 58 per cent jump from the number reported in 2019.

Those organisations range from piloting, with 1 to 10 automations (37 per cent), to scaling, with 51 or more automations (13 per cent). The number of surveyed organisations that are deploying intelligent automation at scale has nearly doubled since 2019.

It seems that robots – although still bearing the burden of deep-seated human stigmas – have entered the mainstream. The challenge is no longer how will we accept intelligent automation in the workplace, but how can we apply it wisely and to the greatest benefit.

Pandemic effects

COVID-19’s disruption is likely to leave a lasting effect on how work is performed, and this extends to automation. Considering the widespread remote working and the configuration required to secure worksites, increasing automation among the workforce is almost a given. Although most respondents told us COVID-19 has caused their organisations to rethink how work is done, the wheels of progress had already been turning; of all survey respondents, 78 per cent are implementing Robotic Process Automation and 16 per cent plan to do so in the next three years.

Critical transformation

For organisations to successfully integrate intelligent automation, they must first acknowledge that transformation is necessary. It starts with making a conscious choice about what they want to achieve, based on the ‘art of the possible’. This decision is then fed into a robust and realistic intelligent automation strategy. That is the ideal, but here is the reality: Only 26 per cent of Deloitte’s survey respondents that are piloting automations – and 38 per cent of those implementing and scaling –have an enterprise-wide intelligent automation strategy.

There is a clear difference between organisations piloting automations and those implementing and scaling their efforts. The latter are more likely to reimagine what they do and incorporate process change across functional boundaries. Those in the piloting stage are more likely to automate current processes, with limited change – they may have not yet taken advantage of the many technologies and techniques that can expand their field of vision and open up even more opportunities. 

There are other barriers to success: process fragmentation and a lack of IT readiness were ranked by survey respondents at the top of the list (consistent with responses in the past two years). Resistance to change was ranked third, closely followed by a lack of a clear vision.

Inevitably, there is work to be done for business leaders aiming for a transformation that delivers end-to-end intelligent automation. Breaking down functional and process silos is a must, as is augmenting business processes by combining complementary tools and technologies – with Business Process Management and low-code at the centre – while using the right process optimisation technique.

Finding full potential

Our survey also revealed untapped opportunities in the areas of process monitoring and process mining. Such tools can speed the discovery of inefficiencies, and the majority of respondents agreed that they drive better outcomes. Despite this, only 20 per cent of respondents are using process mining, and 33 per cent are using process monitoring.

Automation-as-a-service (AaaS) is gaining popularity – but not yet full acceptance – as a critical way to deliver intelligent automation in the next three years. Already 64 per cent of respondents use some form of AaaS, most often for end-to-end development, followed by management and maintenance of automations, then development of automations. This remains an area of unexploited potential for the 36 per cent who reported they are not using AaaS.

Cloud technology is also becoming more widely regarded as future enabling technology for automation: Almost half of survey respondents already use it for some of their automations, and 13 per cent run automations solely on cloud infrastructure. However, 11 per cent do not plan to use cloud infrastructure for automation solutions, overlooking its ability to keep pace with demand and be scaled to ensure capacity is always optimised: a key benefit in minimising operating costs.

Handling the human element

Technology is not the only fundamental element of transformation. With the introduction of intelligent automation, executives should be gauging how much of their workforce has seen changes to roles, tasks and ways of working. Of the implementing and scaling organisations surveyed, 58 per cent have not yet made this calculation, and such a myopic view of transformation may filter out a key benefit: combining people with automation solutions to form ‘superteams’. An all-encompassing approach is needed – one that enhances resilience and adaptivity with humans front and centre.

Those organisations that have recognised the integral human aspect are training workers affected by automation, and seemingly placing emphasis on uniquely human skills: 59 per cent of respondents said their organisations are focusing on process skills, like active listening and critical thinking. More than half of respondents are offering retraining in cognitive abilities, such as creativity and problem solving.

Conclusion

Overall, Deloitte’s 2020 survey showed that great strides have been made to arrive in this brave new world of widespread intelligent automation. But the race to our robotic future is not quite won, because adoption does not guarantee added value. Those that see the greatest benefits from automation will have engaged in entity-wide transformations, rooted in forward-looking, human-centric strategies. To learn more, download Deloitte’s full report, ‘Automation with Intelligence’.

Strategy, Analytics and M&A

Deloitte provides a portfolio of services and assets to imagine, deliver and run intelligent automation. Through immersive events we expose and explore opportunities to define the vision, strategy and business case for widespread adoption across the enterprise. We help executives refine the design, tools and methods necessary in order to rapidly scale up automation. As the business transformation takes shape and the benefits are realised at scale Deloitte provides bot management, maintenance and enhancement.

Learn more

The authors would like to thank Stephen Amatucci, Graeme CarmichaelChris Christodoulou, Lauren Coe, Rachel Forstater, Shantanu Gupta, Oscar HamiltonMartin Lemaire, Sarah Petrino Merritt, Peter Pusztai, Lara Wigdor and Ryan Woodburn for their contributions to this article.

Cover art by: Daniel Hertzberg.

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