Implementing automation requires the right skillsets

30 Jul 2021

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PwC’s David Lee discusses how automation is changing industries and why both technical and soft skills are critical for digital transformation.

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Automation and digital transformation go hand in hand, with the former playing a key role in paving the way for the latter.

But David Lee, a technology partner at PwC Ireland, told that there is a concern among leaders about the speed at which technology and automation are advancing.

“71pc of Irish CEOs said in PwC’s 2021 Irish CEO survey that they are concerned about the speed of technological change on their organisation’s growth prospects, the highest in all the years of the survey,” he said.

“At the same time, business leaders are seriously investing in technology. 41pc of Irish CEOs plan on double-digit investment in digital transformation over the next three years. Over a third will focus on achieving greater workforce productivity through automation and technology.”

Lee said AI will also play a major role in transforming business, with another PwC survey showing that 72pc of business decision-makers say AI can enable humans to concentrate on more meaningful work.

“This includes simplifying and streamlining tasks and cutting out manual processes. Innovative AI techniques also mean less room for error,” he said. “Recent research by PwC on automating analytics found that even the most rudimentary AI-based extraction techniques can save businesses 30pc to 40pc of the hours typically spent on such processes.”

But how can leaders adopt automation?

The research suggests that introducing AI and automation can give a boost to businesses, but this shift can be daunting for leaders. Lee’s key advice for businesses that have yet to adopt automation was to remember that it’s about a mindset change rather than simply bringing in a new technology.

“Don’t simply automate the ‘as is’, reimagine and redesign, then automate. At the same time, create a collaborative culture that encourages your people to come up with new ideas right across your organisation.”

Skills are another thing to consider when it comes to automation. Earlier this week, Hays’ Tim Olsen gave a flavour of the kind of skills needed to work in automation, AI and robotic process automation right now.

‘The skills gap continues to be a huge concern for businesses and upskilling has become one of the key ways to plug the gap’

But even outside of these roles, automation will touch many other areas of the workplace and Lee said employee experience and upskilling must be at the top of the agenda.

“[Give] your people the tools they need for a digitally enabled world. You need the best people, and you need them to stay and grow the business,” he said.

“Implementing automation and digital transformation requires people with the requisite digital skills, as well as people who have the ‘soft’ skills to manage the change process. The skills gap continues to be a huge concern for businesses and upskilling has become one of the key ways to plug the gap.”

He also said that businesses must have a clear set of key performance indicators to measure the steps along their automation journey.

“Ensuring that these are clearly communicated and understood is also just as important and challenging. Considering any changes to roles as a result of freed-up time may also present challenges.”

At PwC, Lee said the company itself has been on a journey of digital upskilling, including automating many of its work deliverables.

“Our focus is to upskill all our people by introducing them, via two-day digital academies, to both new ways of thinking and giving them hands-on experience with a variety of digital tools,” he said.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic