Where are all the robots? In a recent edition of Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal, reporter and managing editor Mark Reilly highlighted the percentage of jobs exposed to automation and AI across the United States. Minnesota fares well, with an estimated 51% of jobs at risk for automation, ranking 44th out of the 50 states. Despite the automation expected in the next 10 years, the short-term horizon suggests that most companies are starting small as they endeavor into automation. From the Manpower Group survey of over 1,500 U.S. employers, 91% surveyed “plan to increase or maintain headcount as a result of automation,” likely using automation to help grow despite a fierce war for talent and talent shortages in key industries and job types.
Currently, many companies are using robotic process automation to enhance their current staff – reducing their administrative workload to allow them to focus on other tasks or be more productive in their existing role – which is the right place to start. Minnesota may be less impacted than other states by the current automation trend, but Minnesota businesses should lean into the opportunities now to take advantage of the ability to drive productivity and create a more engaged workforce.
It’s hard to disagree with the core benefits automation is intended to provide. Removing the inherent, human-imposed variability from a repetitive task drives productivity and improvements to both employee safety and product quality, not to mention reduces errors and re-work. However, the risk of replacing 51% of jobs in Minnesota should not be taken at face value, at least not in the short-term. Truly “intelligent” robots are not yet a reality, and most if not all of our clients see automation as an opportunity to refocus employees on more complex and value-added work, rather than simply cut jobs.
In a recent West Monroe survey, Minnesota employees in manufacturing (the industry many consider as the most susceptible to job replacement) were split on how they perceive automation. About half believe it will make the sector more efficient and competitive and that it will create new job opportunities. The other half believe it will replace jobs. Businesses considering robotic process automation should focus on communication and change management to make sure employees can separate hype from reality and whether their jobs will be replaced or simply function differently than they do today.
Manufacturing isn’t the only industry benefiting from robotic automation. West Monroe’s Robotic Process Automation practice continues to drive value for clients across industries deploying digital robots – including financial services and healthcare. West Monroe recently supported a regional bank leveraging digital 'bots' to automate the customer onboarding within their treasury management services. After assessing and mapping current state processes, ‘bots’ were developed to complete the once manual and very time intensive process. Upon deployment, manual processes required of the bank’s employees were reduced by 99%, with overall transaction time dropping from 60 minutes down to only 3-5 minutes. Realized indirect benefits of the automation included a 80% reduction in training costs due to turnover and a significant reduction in the department’s service level agreements due to error reduction and speed to completion. We also helped a leading dental plan automate their provider credentialing process to increase daily output by 350%.
As companies are beginning to realize that automation does not always require significant capital investment in machines requiring physical floor space and an army of maintenance and engineering staff, getting started doesn’t have to be difficult. But, it is still important to take a thoughtful and controlled approach to developing a digital automation capability. We define four key phases to build an automation Center of Excellence (CoE) to create value:
Assess: Review and identify potential processes for automation. Consider both the ease of automation (repeatable, non-complex processes with defined business rules) and value to the business (high frequency processes requiring significant manual effort). Priority should align with the lowest complexity and risk offering the greatest value.
Pilot: Select your pilot process and map out the current state steps and baseline KPIs, identifying along the way opportunities to optimize. Deploy a team with both the technical skill and subject matter expertise to define the automated process workflow. Through iterative testing in a non-production environment, identify and resolve bugs and process exceptions and continue to optimize for speed and efficiency.
Scale: Deploy your tested ‘bot’ into your live business environment and closely monitor its activities to provide necessary corrections or modifications. Measure improvements against your baseline KPIs and develop standard documentation for troubleshooting bugs and exception handling.
Integrate: Enable your CoE to continue implementing ‘bots’ to expand automation efforts. Put in place change and communication strategies to ensure impacted employees feel included, understand, and ultimately accept the change. Establishing a governance framework will provide the control and standardization to allow for the success and durability of your growing automation capability.
It’s not too late leverage both the direct and indirect benefits of automation. As advised by former founder of Google Brain and chief scientist at Baidu, “it is a big journey, but jumping in is not hard.” Laying the groundwork now starting with a few key areas of your business and then establishing an internal automation capability will prepare your business and workforce for the impending disruption of automation.