Automation doesn’t have to be a dirty word…

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Without a doubt, the impact of automation on the IT Services industry is a topic of much debate and contention. The challenge is that speculation drives much of the discussion, rather than quality data and analysis.

While the subject of automation has been discussed a few times on the blog, I feel compelled to add my experiences and those of the IT professionals I met on my travels to the discussion.

Not long before joining HfS, I spent several months presenting research on automation at events and conferences across the UK. While the research covered a broad range of topics, automation in IT services was by far the most popular. After a few presentations discussing the increased adoption of automation and the growing capability of the tooling, it became apparent where the popularity of the topic originated – fear. After each session, a small gathering of IT professionals would question me on job security, headcount decreases and how automation augered a bleak future for the industry.

It’s not difficult to see why the audience felt this way. The mainstream media and even some analyst firms have been stoking the climate of fear with considerable vigor.

So I went back to the drawing board and changed my presentation. I took a fresh look at the data to examine what was happening in the industry – did we genuinely need to worry? Beginning with an impactful quote most media outlets were running with – something along the lines of “be terrified, the robots are coming” – I started to dismantle these theories with my research data on employment trends, headcount increases, and industry perception.

While many argued that automation would lead to job cuts, my data showed the opposite. Organizations recognized the importance of technology to their businesses and were investing in the services needed to support it. The data revealed that in organizations with higher levels of automation, workers were not disappearing, they were moving to higher value areas of the support structure – taking on strategic projects or developing services.

At the end of the presentation, I concluded that the reality of automation’s impact on modern IT services was far from the bleak picture painted by other analysts and consultants.

Nevertheless, a few minutes after the session ended the same horror stories started to emerge: IT leaders facing a backlash from staff as automation projects ramp up and professionals working themselves into a frenzy over their job security if projects continued. It was frightening stuff.

Crucially, my research revealed that the cause of this panic doesn’t come directly from the automation itself – there were almost no real-life examples of automation leading to sweeping changes in any of the organizations I was working with. Without a doubt, much of the fear was generated by analysts and media outlets whipping up this distorted perception, but surely there must have been another force at work.

After a bit of digging around the real cause of the hysteria became clear. In organizations with little or no perception issues, it was clear that the leadership team had taken the time to communicate with their teams. Conversely, those with stressed and worried staff had not.

When I questioned an executive who sought advice on soothing fears in his team if he had clearly explained his vision, and what the outcome of the project would be, he replied that it was obvious what he was trying to achieve. If that were true, the perception crisis in his organization would not be there.

Successful automation projects have an engaged team working behind them. The most effective I have seen understand what will be automated and why. They know what impact it will have and, for the most part, agree it was an area of manual work they found repetitive, boring and unfulfilling anyway. They eagerly anticipated a time when they could dedicate their efforts to more meaningful and valuable work.

Under different circumstances, this committed group would be dealing with the same fear and stress as their peers in organizations with less effective communication.

In the noisy information age we now live in, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Business leaders have an obligation to provide clear, effective communication that outlines the vision and journey of automation projects. Without the context and understanding they provide, an engaged team can quickly turn into a stressed one. And a stressed team will undoubtedly hold your project back. It’s not hard to understand why an individual afraid of becoming obsolete may not be working towards your goals with total enthusiasm.

Bottom Line: Effective communication strengthens the fine line between a successful automation project and one held back by a nervous and stressed team.

Posted in : Robotic Process Automation

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