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Automation Hits the Skill Shortage Hurdle

As the post-pandemic business world emerges with automation taking centre stage – AI skills will see unprecedented demands

Automation of business processes is rapidly scaling up, with fallout from COVID-19 likely to accelerate adoption, according to a worldwide survey of business executives by Bain & Company. The survey finds that companies report cost savings from automation of roughly 20% on average over the past two years.

Other reported benefits include improved process quality and accuracy, reduced cycle times and improved compliance. However, these gains don’t come without pains. Some 44% of the respondents said that their automation projects have not delivered the expected savings. The major barriers all involve execution – notably, competing business priorities, insufficient resources, or lack of skill. Skill gap is emerging as the biggest hurdle in implementing automation and artificial intelligence projects in India as well, according to HR organizations.

India is currently looking at a shortage of employees skilled in technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, Blockchain, Internet of Things, cyber security and data analytics – and recruitment experts predict this would become acute next year. If the shortage was in thousands in 2019, it is going to be up to 200,000 by the end of 2020, according to estimates by head-hunters like TeamLease, Randstad, Magna Infotech and ABC Consultants. This demand for new tech talent will be spread across all sectors, as more businesses converts to the digitized and automated mode under impact of the pandemic.

At the same time, automation is also eliminating certain jobs faster than was forecast, due to COVID-19. Automation is changing how companies operate and how people work across a broad range of business processes. Although at times, the pace of adoption has been frustratingly slow for many companies. the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak has changed all that. As companies lose critical staff and the fragility of manual business processes is exposed, many companies now have no choice but to turn to automation to keep the business running.

The survey by Bain & Company Bain indicated that by the end of the 2020s, automation of business processes might eliminate 20% to 25% of current jobs, hitting lower-skilled workers the hardest, and benefiting highly skilled workers and the owners of capital. In the US service sector, for instance, automation could spread through companies two to three times more rapidly than in previous transformations in agriculture, manufacturing and construction.

A survey of nearly 800 executives worldwide concludes that over the next two years, the share of companies scaling up automation technologies – ranging from low code automation, to optical character recognition (OCR), robotic process automation (RPA) or conversational artificial intelligence (AI) – will at least double, depending on the particular technology. The most fertile territory for automation covers high-volume, rules-based processes, such as scraping data from the web, copy-pasting data from one system to another, heavy data manipulations or opening emails and attachments – characteristics, for instance, of providing status updates to customers or processing a loan.

The survey cites a case study of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), a major bank in Japan, that has used RPA extensively to reduce cost and become more efficient. SMBC evaluated all processes at headquarters departments, eliminated unnecessary processes and integrated duplicative operations. For the remaining tasks, it automated those that were suitable for RPA, such as notification of suspicious transactions, internal loss verification, and routine processes with high volumes related to deposits, currency exchange and loans.

The RPA worked not only through servers but also on desktops, so that employees could automate their own work on their own time. By the following year, automation had saved 1.6 million work hours, worth 800 full-time employees. Consequently, those employees were able to dedicate more time to other valuable tasks, and SMBC plans to generate even more savings in the coming few years.

To extract the best business outcome from automation, organizations need to use several other tools in tandem that are tied to the overall strategy. A comprehensive approach should start with the objective of creating a digital enterprise which will create personalized experience for customers, strengthen relationships with suppliers as well as business partners, and create a more engaging, productive workplace. The plan should include re-skilling and up-skilling the workforce to minimize disruption. Instead of setting cost savings as a goal, businesses would do well to have digital transformation as the overarching objective which should aim to deliver a completely new experience to all stakeholders.

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