Putting automation into motion will put the wheels on UK economic growth

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Over the past two years, the evolution of collaboration tools and technologies has acted as the bedrock for hybrid working, ensuring teams are able to work productively and securely, whether logging on from laptops in living rooms or board rooms.   

The next opportunity to revolutionise how we work in the UK will come from the application of automation technologies. In the same way that collaboration platforms have brought significant benefits to individuals managing their work/life balance, automation will enable organisations to improve their employees’ job satisfaction for the long term, while narrowing the digital skills gap. 

Using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies to automate repetitive, manual tasks would give people more time to dedicate to high-value and strategic tasks, such as networking and digital skills training.  For example, identifying system outages early and harnessing predictive modelling to prevent future outages is typically a top machine-learning priority for most organisations.  

Within my own teams, I know that my people value the activities that require team collaboration, thought and creativity. At a time when the recruitment market is white-hot, ensuring job satisfaction throughout the workforce is a key priority. Automation, deployed correctly, has an important role to play in attracting and retaining talent. This, in turn, will help build resilience and growth within organisations across the UK, benefiting the broader economy. 

Today’s business landscape brings new opportunities for automation to significantly improve business resilience and workers’ roles.  

Moving from brawn to brains  

Across organisations, a vast amount of repetitive work continues to be done, for instance in administration, monitoring, reviews and responding to tickets. Although the roll-out of cloud technologies has automated some processes, Deloitte’s annual Tech trends report highlights that many forward-thinking CIOs are beginning to identify processes across infrastructure, software components, security and applications, that can be automated in order to improve the productivity and workload of their teams.   

In many cases, these leaders are seeing the quality of work within their teams improve because individual team members are no longer interpreting queries, documents and forms in different ways. Meanwhile, security and resilience are enhanced as a result of the same rules being applied consistently, improving reliability and ensuring that problem fixes will not fall subject to human error.  

Automation can also assist with seemingly impossible, time-intensive tasks. Our Deloitte legal team achieved a 50% time saving when using AI to analyse and standardise thousands of pages of contracts across 14 European Union entities for BT. The team worked with BT to apply AI to map and allocate 4,500 documents for review, so that they could identify relevant clauses and categorise what needed to be carried out by the in-house BT team. Combined with human judgement where needed, the team were able to work efficiently and swiftly to deliver the project within the two-week deadline.  

With innovation continuing at pace, it is likely we will see automation tasks, such as development, deployment and maintenance, advance further in the coming years. The goal should be to implement streamlined, optimised processes across all industries, allowing workers to focus on creative and collaborative tasks as technologies work in the background to achieve better efficiency. 

We can see across all sectors that CIOs are moving away from their legacy technology stack to adopt new technologies and use automation to reduce technical debts and cost. Early participants in this have already seen efficiency gains and, crucially, improved profitability, and this trend is likely to continue as others seek to gain a competitive edge in the market.

Finance leaders face rising costs 

While the majority of finance leaders in the UK are currently focused on business growth, including the introduction of new products and services, a record number are anticipating rising operating costs, according to Deloitte’s UK CFO survey 2021.   

This makes investment in technologies that solve key business challenges and create measurable value, vital. Indeed, it is this kind of investment that will fortify the UK’s economic growth. Announcements made by the chancellor during March’s Spring Statement demonstrated the government’s belief in this, with plans outlined for further changes to research and development tax credits, in order to boost productivity.

In a possible sign of where much of the innovation lies, the government also outlined plans to introduce research and development tax relief for cloud computing investment and data costs from April 2023.    

However, particularly for large organisations, the road to automation often includes speed bumps, as a result of both modern and legacy technologies that comprise a mixed bag of processes, applications and workarounds. This inevitably leads to rising costs and delayed deadlines. As for automation to scale, processes must be executed consistently. As a result, modernising technology stacks and creating a standard approach to developing, deploying and maintaining solutions and components is also a key priority for current and future digital transformation projects.  

Race for talent  

Alongside rising costs, business leaders are facing a competitive race for talent, especially for advanced skills. There is a significant focus on both attracting and retaining talent, particularly as many people have changed their attitudes towards work and their roles during the pandemic. With different priorities, workers are looking for employers that offer the most desirable roles and adaptive workplaces to support their development and, crucially, fulfilment at work.  

Offering stimulating roles that focus on solving high-value problems is one way to improve the talent experience and boost retention; the worker of today wants to be challenged and encouraged to progress. With the help of automation technologies, businesses can create roles based on creativity and interaction, allowing for more time to be spent on more valuable tasks.   

Digital skills shortage 

As we adapt to new approaches to working, whether that be the world of hybrid or simply implementing fresh technologies, it is increasingly important to acknowledge the significant digital skills gap that is growing as digital transformation accelerates.   

Organisations will be acutely aware of the ongoing challenge of addressing the digital skills shortage, particularly as they look to attract talent to join their organisation. However, they may be unsure of how to bridge the gap in skill levels, or may even be intimidated by the level of expertise needed and the vast array of different technologies that they may require.  

Our research shows that almost two-thirds of organisations have not considered what proportion of their workforce needs to retrain as a result of automation, with more than half of businesses that have already automated at scale saying they have not yet explored whether their workforce needs to reskill as a result of their automation strategy. 

Clearly, investing time and resources in bridging the skills gap is important for organisations to become more efficient and for workers to be given the opportunity to develop their capabilities. The next vital step in the transformation process is upskilling employees to optimise these technologies, as well as recruiting skilled workers. This includes workers being provided with bespoke training on how they can, and should, use automation technologies within their roles. 

Automation, AI and self-service technologies should act as an incentive to attract, retain and upskill workers across all industries, offering innovative ways to streamline processes and solve real-world problems.  

 Anne-Marie Malley is managing partner for consulting at Deloitte.



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