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How automation will change the way data pros compete for top jobs

Despite a lot of negative hype around the topic, a recent study finds that technology workers aren’t worried about automation jeopardizing their job security. That said, what many do worry about when it comes to automation technologies is how it will change the nature of competition for top tech jobs.

According to the latest Nintex study, an overwhelming majority (77 percent) of tech employees surveyed think automation technologies will cause greater competition among workers.

Information Management spoke with Ryan Duguid, chief evangelist at Nintex and author of the study, to gain insights in how tech workers view trends in automation adoption and how they will impact job roles and skills demand.

Information Management: What were the key findings of the recent study regarding automation practices and trends?

Ryan Duguid: The research found that 88 percent of formalized transformation plans already include process automation and intelligence capabilities. The top three departments investing in process automation include IT, customer service and finance.

We also uncovered the percentage of enterprises incorporating intelligent process automation solutions as part of their formal transformation strategy. Of enterprises with digital transformation plan including automation, 62 percent include advanced workflow, 55 percent include document generation, 51 percent include mobile apps and forms, 43 percent include robotic process automation, 62 percent include process intelligence and 39 percent include machine intelligence.

IM: Where did respondents indicate they typically are in terms of adopting automation technologies and for what purposes?

Duguid: We found that the majority of U.S. companies are still in the early adoption stages of digital transformation – nearly two-thirds of companies have followed a formalized digital transformation plan for three years or less, while one-third have followed a plan for one year or less. And of those with a formalized transformation plan, 88 percent include process automation and intelligence capabilities.

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Programmers work at the Maluuba Inc. office in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. Several leading Canadian researchers and professors have defected to U.S. tech companies such as Google. Already members of the country's AI community are trying to protect what they helped build. A startup called Maluuba, which makes technology that helps computers talk, is opening a research office in Montreal; the University of Toronto has opened a startup accelerator and this fall launched a program dedicated to AI research. Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg

Respondents also reported the top reasons for investing in digital transformation. In the manufacturing industry, the top reason reported was productivity gains (64 percent). However, in the healthcare and finance industries the top reason reported was to improve customer experience (47 percent and 53 percent).

While driving productivity and cost reduction fits with manufacturing, customer centric industries realize there are more top line gains when you improve customer experience. Enterprises in those industries are obsessing about improving the customer experience and realizing that there are huge gains to be had there just by making it easier for a customer to do business with you.

Process management and improvement is nothing new the business world. People have being trying to find efficiencies in businesses since the industrial revolution. Traditionally when people think of process efficiencies, they’re typically thinking of how to cut cost, time, and increase production. We’re constantly trying to drive people to think about higher value, top line benefits. You can only ever reduce your costs a finite amount in any business.

There are infinite gains to be had if you invest in top line benefits. If you invest in a better customer services, in employee satisfaction, in your pace of innovation - the gains there are exponential. It’s far more competitive to invest in growing your business than shrinking your cost.

IM: What did you find to be the most surprising finding of the study?

Duguid: What’s surprising to us is that the industry is starting to wake up to our story around investing in digital transformation to improve customer experience – not just drive productivity and cut costs. Improving customer experience was the top reason for investing in digital strategy efforts for companies in healthcare and finance, both customer-centric industries.

This is also consistent with findings from Forrester Research’s “Q1 2018 Digital Process Automation Survey,” which found improving customer experience as the primary focus of process improvement efforts today. We weren’t surprised to see this trend in our study findings, but we’re delighted to see that it’s a top reason for investing in digital transformation and automation.

What’s also really surprising is how little progress many enterprises have made and the reasons why digital transformation efforts have failed. Study respondents reported the biggest reasons for failure to be lack of executive buy-in (38 percent), lack of sufficient in-house talent (38 percent) and lack of transformation-specific leadership. This is also apparent in the lack of clarity about who is leading these efforts.

Leaders of organization’s digital transformation efforts varied between the CEO (40 percent), CIO/CTO (40 percent), chief digital officer (37 percent), chief customer experience Office (22 percent), and CMO (14 percent). Perhaps even more alarming – only 47 percent of line of business employee are even aware of what digital transformation is – let alone whether their company has a plan to address/achieve digital transformation.

IM: You indicated that tech workers aren’t generally worried that automation won’t kill their jobs, but competition might. What did you mean by that?

Duguid: What this means is that jobs will be lost to competition from workers with skills around automation who will out-skill them. People coming into the workplace now are aware of smarter and more efficient ways to work. It’s almost its own industrial revolution in the way people work – especially with high tech and how fast it’s adopted. People have to retrain fast enough to keep up with the changes of their job. Workers need to be able to adapt with the change.

Tech workers are not immune to the changing technology either. We’re moving into an era where being the best coder isn’t going to differentiate you. Rather being the smartest, most-efficient coder is going to. If you can’t adapt to leverage low-code tools to help you achieve more, you’ll fall behind. Developers have been taught to write code and that writing as much code as possible is good. But were in an era were writing the least amount of code is good and if you can’t adapt your mindset and skills to that technology you’re going to be put out of a job.

IM: What are the greatest pros and cons with regard to how automation will impact tech jobs and what should tech workers do in preparation?

Duguid: Tech workers might finally be able to keep up with the demand! Incorporating low code process automation solutions means tech workers will have the ability to keep up with the demand by finding more efficient effective ways to do things. Adopting automation solutions can also keep tech workers as agile as possible.

A potential con is that it’s so easy to just automate something that you don’t stop to think about if the process is right before automating. People shouldn’t jump to applying automation to solve a problem, and instead step and think about what’s the right way to do it. If the process is wrong automation won’t solve it.

Before automating something, organization should first focus on the outcomes they are looking to enable. Then they can figure out how to best achieve those outcomes and whether or not the current process needs to be changed to achieve that. Once the process is right, then it gets easy to move forward and automate it.

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