‘Soon automation won’t just be an option for business leaders, but a necessity’

19 Sep 2019

Surya Kant. Image: Tata Consultancy Services

Surya Kant from Tata Consultancy Services offers his advice on how business leaders can get ready for automation to unleash their organisation’s human potential.

Future of Work Week

Automation and robotics are becoming commonplace and making a difference to all kinds of businesses. Think about the financial decision-makers using analytics to help determine where their company should be investing, or the auto companies building automated driver-assist systems that will enable driverless cars.

However, embracing automation can be difficult for business leaders to grasp – both in terms of understanding the end benefits and planning for any potential impact on the workforce. As such, adoption has been slower than other digital technologies. Yet there are significant benefits to be claimed by fast movers.

‘Automation can contribute to effectively running the business while humans are given more time to focus on how to change the business’

According to a new report from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), 61pc of companies identified as ‘leaders’ in their digital transformation efforts are already implementing automation to free up workers, and are experiencing great results. These leaders have cracked the code across business transformation. They are successfully implementing mass personalisation, harnessing abundance, leveraging ecosystems and embracing risk.

This work is paying off. According to the study, 60pc of these business transformation leaders expect revenue growth of more than 10pc over the next three years.

Manufacturers are leading the pack in terms of mass personalisation capabilities, with 83pc of companies able to customise products and services of almost every individual interaction. However, even with high performance and proven ROI, some manufacturers are sceptical to go all-in on automation innovation.

Evolving mindset

Until now, many businesses have viewed automation as something for the future or a ‘nice to have’, rather than a practical solution that can make a big difference today.

Automation can contribute to effectively running the business while humans are given more time to focus on how to change the business. This mindset is starting to evolve as more organisations make business transformation a priority.

Integrating cloud-based internet of things (IoT) solutions, for example, enables rapid data-driven services and value delivery. Increasing numbers of businesses are pulling data gathered from remote sensors and extracting value from these sets using deep-learning technologies.

As the automation trend gathers pace, organisations must not get left behind. Indeed, investment in automation is set to increase steeply over the next three years, most significantly in the IT and supply chain sectors. Soon it won’t be just an option for business leaders, but a necessity.

Have a skills vision

Automation will fundamentally transform numerous established working practices, changing the nature of many people’s jobs and altering the structure of teams or departments.

Traditionally, manufacturers have been under the most scrutiny for potential automation investments out of fear of job displacement for shop-floor workers. Because of this, businesses must ensure employees can thrive in this new environment.

They need to become comfortable with automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as a co-worker to help them perform their jobs more effectively (for example, using automation to assist shop-floor workers in improving their personal productivity instead of replacing them outright), or allowing them time to focus on more creative, strategic or new business challenges.

Organisations will need to find new blends of hard and soft skills, while playing a key role alongside educational and government institutions to create scalable solutions to reskill existing and prospective employees and foster the next generation of talent.

‘Staff need education on what automation will mean for the future of their jobs, and organisations must focus on putting minds at ease’

To achieve all this, it is vital to secure buy-in from employees at every level. Staff need education on what automation will mean for the future of their jobs, and organisations must focus on putting minds at ease regarding the widely reported – and misleading – fears that automation invariably means the replacement of human workers.

By being transparent from the start and providing the right educational tools, a lot of uncertainty can be avoided and employees will be more prepared to embrace change.

Lead from the front

Company cultures are inevitably influenced by the actions and attitudes of the organisation’s executive team. When senior leaders are reluctant to live an open-to-risk mindset – which includes embracing new ways of working like automation – it has a bearing on how the rest of the workforce behaves.

It is, therefore, imperative that senior leaders drive business transformation initiatives over the finish line. In TCS’s recent study, we found that a lack of senior leadership buy-in is a common barrier to the adoption of true business transformation.

Leaders must have the experience and skills necessary to communicate effectively with employees, while also providing a strong direction over the implementation of automation within the organisation.

For manufacturers, it’s imperative that communication between senior leadership and shop-floor employees is consistent throughout the transformation process. Leadership must effectively communicate how investment in automation will assist staff in completing their everyday tasks, and how they will receive necessary training to be able to utilise said technology with ease.

Overall, automation will create new and more rewarding jobs, freeing workers from many of their more tedious and manual tasks and allowing them to focus on driving value throughout the entire supply chain. It’s about technology as empowerment – enabling customers, employees and the broader community to realise their full human potential.

By Surya Kant

Surya Kant is president of North American, UK and European operations for Tata Consultancy Services, one of the world’s largest IT services, consulting and business solutions organisations.