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What happens to humans after we automate?

We're in the midst of an automation paradigm shift. Over the past year and a half, organizations have embraced intelligent automation with higher adoption rates of robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like machine learning and natural language processing, at unprecedented levels.

According to analyst firm IDC, the intelligent process automation market will grow to $28.5 billion in 2023, with three in four organizations saying they plan to implement automation by 2024 to drive process optimization and free up operational cash.

It's a departure from the narrative that automation would render parts of the workforce obsolete.

"At the height of the pandemic, people were really afraid that automation — RPA, chatbots, AI — was going to replace their jobs," says Bryan Phillips, senior product marketing manager at TELUS International.

But that drive to automate has shifted into a new understanding: Digital automation isn't about making work less human; it's about doing away with tedious processes and decision-making and empowering employees to focus on work that needs a special human touch.

"Humans are now truly working with the automation products and co-mingling to deliver increased volumes without increasing staff," says Phillips.

Organizations are ready for it. According to a TELUS International survey, nine in 10 Americans say they believe bots will be important to the future of work. But Phillips is quick to point out that embracing intelligent automation at scale and truly capitalizing on it means understanding why it's relevant to your organization and how your human and digital workforces can co-exist.

The benefits of intelligent automation

One of the key assets of automation is optimization. It has the ability to make processes, resource allocation and communication between employees and customers more efficient.

For many organizations, automation is already creating efficiencies. The TELUS International survey found that the top three activities currently being automated by bots are IT troubleshooting (57%), data entry (45%), and schedule management (44%) — the sorts of tasks that devour employees time and bandwidth.

"You're doing more with the same number of employees and team members because you've complemented with automation," explains Phillips.

However, the survey found employees would like to draw even more benefits from bots by pointing their digital co-workers at time-consuming internal tasks, like answering simple HR-related queries, communicating paycheck information and confirming the receipt of emails. According to the survey respondents, if bots could tackle these repetitive jobs, employees could focus on more complex tasks — for instance, using the extra headspace to brainstorm new ideas and connect with colleagues more effectively and frequently.

Ultimately, improving the employee experience translates to a better customer experience. As technology, like chatbots, becomes more adept at answering sophisticated customer queries and knowing when to seamlessly transition to human agents, employees will be empowered to focus on higher-value tasks.

"What happens to humans after we automate? We enrich their work experience," says Phillips. "We give back the time taken from them when we didn't have the efficiencies and the processes in place that enable them to do a better job."

But embracing automation is not without barriers.

The challenges of process automation

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding intelligent automation, organizations are facing some challenges. Salesforce's IT Leaders Fueling Productivity With Process Automation report found respondents who had implemented process automation were struggling with mapping complex processes (54%), integrations (39%) and implementation costs (37%).

It has become easy for organizations to invest in many different bots for specific tasks, and many instances, which has resulted in bot licenses being underutilized. In the automation world, it's known as "bot sprawl" — a situation in which a company has more bots than they need. Businesses have a tendency to overlook the fact that the same bot has the ability to undertake radically different tasks across an organization.

Phillips says the key to addressing these challenges is to use a tool that allows organizations to track bot lifecycle and performance in real time, while also analyzing the value creation and return-on-investment of that digital workforce.

"Workforce management on the human side can be very complicated," he says. Humans have sick days and can be late, there are personality clashes amongst team members and work-life balance considerations. Bots don't have any of these problems. As well, they can be programmed to perform a task at a certain time, 24/7 and tackle it accordingly. Phillips says that with the right tool and a Center of Excellence (COE) in place to manage the relationship between digital and human workforces, organizations can effectively scale their intelligent automation efforts.

Humans and automation

At the heart of a successful intelligent automation strategy is the philosophy of augmented intelligence — the idea that AI-enabled automation functions best as a human-centered partnership. It's about empowering employees and enhancing the customer experience.

According to the article Automation with Intelligence by Deloitte, "Organizations that have recognized the integral human aspect are training workers affected by automation, and seemingly placing emphasis on uniquely human skills." Nearly six in 10 (59%) of those surveyed by Deloitte said their organizations were focusing on process skills such as active listening and critical thinking, while over half were focused on retraining cognitive abilities like creativity and problem-solving.

The presence of digital co-workers is also leading to greater job satisfaction among humans. Salesforce's October 2021 survey of 773 automation users in the U.S. found that 89% of those polled say they are more satisfied with their job. Over three-quarters (76%) say they also feel better about their stress levels at work.

By working collaboratively, bots and humans can bring out the best in each other. It isn't about automation replacing humans, it's about allowing them to focus on the things they do best: building relationships and solving problems intuitively.

And it's only the beginning.

"We've barely scratched the surface on the opportunities to automate," says Phillips. As organizations are wrapping their heads around the coexistence of digital and human workforces, that element of fear that existed surrounding lost jobs and the erosion of workforces is falling away.

"If you look now across the landscape of a hundred enterprise companies, you'll probably find that 75% of those companies are learning and gaming out automation ideas from the frontline workers," adds Phillips. "Fear is being removed from the equation and adoption is at its all-time high."

To learn how TELUS International can help you on your automation journey, connect with one of our digital IT specialists today.

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