Tackling the productivity problem with robots

August 20, 2021 10:46
Even those without a software engineering background can access digital workers, which are essentially a scalable team of low or no-code software robots to enhance business. Photo: Reuters

Over the last year, businesses have been tested like never before and the accompanying strain has been felt by employees in every sector across Hong Kong. Instead of slowing down, many businesses have pushed onwards at a faster and harder pace than even before the pandemic, trying to ensure that their services remain top of mind with customers and profits don’t lag to the point of no return.

This situation creates a challenge for business leaders – how to increase productivity without overburdening already over-stretched employees. Automation has the answer.
Over the last 40 years, labour productivity in Hong Kong has grown at a rate of nearly 3 percent per year, and knowledge workers – anyone whose job involves handling or using information – are increasingly finding that they have more work than they can handle.

According to Blue Prism’s “The Impact of a Digital Workforce on Business Agility and Survival” research study, over half of knowledge workers in Hong Kong and mainland China admit to be struggling with workload demands, and 93% of these respondents believe automation would help alleviate the problem.

This sentiment was shared by a majority (70 percent) of business leaders in Hong Kong and mainland China, who felt that their organisations were struggling to meet customer demands due to too much time being spent on administrative tasks.

As you can imagine, this presents a hard situation for businesses to cope with and overcome, especially if they are looking to scale operations and focus on growth. So, where should business leaders turn?

The Case for Automation

You only have to look at automation in manufacturing, where it is expected to free up nearly 5 percent of China’s workforce by 2025 .

What was true of manufacturing in the last century is now becoming true for services, and it is important for us to go beyond the headlines to consider more optimistically how automation will impact businesses.

A whopping 96 percent of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese business leaders now believe that automation offers more to the business than just time and cost savings, and that it is essential for their organisations to remain competitive.

In addition, businesses no longer need to have a sophisticated technical team to introduce automation-related capabilities. Instead, even those without a software engineering background can access digital workers to enhance business. These ‘workers’, which are essentially a scalable team of low or no-code software robots, can be trained by any business user to perform basic tasks like payments processing right through to more complex ones.

With digital workers in place alongside knowledge workers and taking on excessive, tedious and repeated processes, humans can exercise their creativity, empathy and critical problem-solving ability and focus on more value-adding tasks or projects. At a business level, this means increased cost savings and operational efficiencies – with fewer errors. At the human level, it means less time working on mundane administrative tasks and more focus on fulfilling work duties.

A Shift in Perception

Blue Prism’s research study found that almost all (99 percent) of local business leaders plan to extend the use of automation across their business, while 98% business decision makers have already had a clear plan for rolling out the use of automation in place.

Along the same line, 94 percent of local business leaders and 88 percent of local knowledge workers said they appreciate the opportunities that automation will create. Furthermore, 85 percent of Hong Kong and mainland China’s knowledge workers even said that they are comfortable with the idea of being reskilled for a role change within their organisation. This represents a huge shift in the perception about automation within and across the workforce.

A unique opportunity is presenting itself to businesses, and it’s one that should not be ignored or missed. The COVID-19 pandemic has made a strong case for leaders to start thinking differently about business operations, their employees and their collective potential. With a reach that far extends individual process automation, intelligent automation has the ability to help organizations strategically transform entire operations, creating resilient workforces and businesses that can face any future uncertainties with more confidence. Intelligent automation has the ability to increase productivity across the enterprise, to improve customer experience and to increase competitive edge.

If growth is your goal at a time like this, imagine what your human workers could build with extra digital workers at their fingertips? It’s time to start thinking about innovative ways to scale, which don’t overburden employees. It’s time to think seriously about automation.

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Blue Prism’s APAC CTO