While senior executives are buoyant about the productivity opportunities from automation, concerns over data privacy and security are holding back adoption, according to a new report by the Economist’s Economic Intelligence Unit.

The report, called “The Advance of Automation, business Hopes, Fears and Realities” and sponsored by UiPath, says the concerns are especially pronounced among public sector and healthcare executives.

The authors of the report note other concerns as well. “Technology-specific issues also figure prominently, but nearly as important are human factors: an absence of relevant skills and employee resistance. The former is felt acutely in Asia (especially Japan) and, in terms of industries, energy. European organisations struggle more with employee resistance to automation, as do those in the healthcare sector.”

Education is the key to overcoming internal residence according to 42 per cent of those surveyed who also noted that re-skilling is also an important practices to help to smooth the implementation of automation.

The report also states that the fears of worker displacement by AI are limited. “Most organisations in the survey are prioritising the implementation of AI-based technologies. Neither the experts interviewed for the study nor survey respondents have grave fears of worker displacement by AI, although many respondents remain unsure.”

However, it is worth noting that in a somewhat contradictory finding, a clear majority of respondents to the survey (54 per cent) agreed that automation will displace humans in the workforce at least to some extent.

According to Andrew Phillips, managing director and vice president ANZ, UiPath, “The adoption of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has picked up considerable momentum across the globe and it’s now the responsibility of C-level executives first to introduce, then to implement this technology throughout their organisations.”

He said that to ensure businesses in ANZ adopt an ‘automation first’ mindset, they need to invest time to learn and understand the most effective way to pair workers and their software robots to maximise results. “RPA can uncover new opportunities for businesses to gain a competitive advantage but also reach their goals more efficiently. It’s therefore important that ANZ businesses are prepared for this shift in how we combine humans and robots at work.”

Productivity gains

According to the report, executives are pleased with the results of their automation initiatives so far.

“Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents (73 per cent ) are ‘very’ or ‘entirely satisfied’ with the automation benefits they are seeing. Chief among these are operational gains in the form of increased productivity, cited by over half of respondents.”

The authors say this indicates that the elimination of repetitive manual tasks is delivering tangible efficiency gains.

“For around a third of respondents’ organisations, error reduction has also been an important benefit, and another 28 per cent report greater consistency (reliability) of processes and production. Looking ahead, businesses hope to see more top-line benefits from automation, for example in the form of increased revenue and enhanced competitive advantage, signalling a shift to more strategic benefits as the technology matures.”

A large majority of respondents also believe automation is leading to better customer engagement along with the ability to sources new revenue.

“Most also say it is giving organisations the ability to scale more easily (increased capacity to handle volume). More than nine in ten state (55 per cent “strongly”) that automation has kickstarted digital transformation in their organisation.”

There are still gaps though.

“At the same time, it is worth noting where automation is not yet meeting executives’ expectations. For example, a potential benefit attractive to many managers is the freeing up of employees to focus on higher-level activities. Just over a quarter of respondents (27 per cent) expect automation to create opportunities for professional growth, and a similar number (26 per cent) expect it to free up time for more human interaction. Another 37 per cent believe automation will serve to increase employee engagement.”

The report also notes that just 17 per cent of respondents say increased employee engagement has been an important benefit of automation so far; and only 18 per cent believe the same about freeing up employees to take on higher-level roles.

The survey is based on responses from 502 senior executives of mid and large enterprise, all with annual revenues over U.S. $250 million and half over U.S. $1 billion, among eight countries: Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Note: The artwork for the story is from the cover of the report.

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