The Automation Nation

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A recent survey shows UK businesses understand the benefits of automation. So what’s stopping them?

In a recent survey on automation, UK businesses said they believe as many as 40% of business tasks in their organizations could be automated in the next three to five years.

Their employees welcome this potential development. Our survey showed that nearly half of UK office workers are optimistic about the impact automation technologies will have on the workplace of the future. The same proportion said they have given serious thought to how automation technologies can support their department with its day-to-day processes— and among those people who are responsible for finances, that figure rose to 85%.

Not surprisingly, most respondents saw the most potential in areas such as invoicing, managing expense claims, reporting, and administration tasks, with key benefits including freeing up staff time to do higher value, core business tasks, lowering costs, and improving the accuracy of results.

And yet…

So far, so good. But the same survey found fewer than 20% of those surveyed are currently benefiting from automation. And this isn’t just a UK phenomenon, in my experience, business leaders in other countries such as the US, the Nordics, and other parts of Europe are also hesitating.

So what’s preventing companies from taking advantage?

One issue is the question of technology. Many businesses are struggling with uncertainties about how to select, implement, and manage automation in their organizations. Dividing lines between robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning can blur, and it can be difficult to know what’s best-suited for individual circumstances. If you’re interested in the details of how to apply automation then take a look at our Intelligent Process Automation offer.

And then there’s the question of financing the transition. Just under a third of respondents to our survey said that implementation costs were the main barrier across all the technologies.

I believe there are some understandable misconceptions here—understandable because for many this is as yet uncharted territory. There’s a fear factor—should we adopt? How should we do it? What benefits will we see?

To answer these questions, companies need proof-of-value solutions. They need to start small. As time passes and data grows and populates the model, they’ll start to see the benefits that can be achieved. It doesn’t need to be a huge up-front investment. There’s a great deal of free open-source software out there to help companies explore the potential. The key is to start small with a pilot to see what works and then scale once they’re better able to manage the cost profile and the benefits.

A question of skills

But there’s another disincentive to adopting digital automation, and it’s pertinent to the question of technology I raised earlier—the need for appropriate skills. Many organizations may be aware of the potential benefits of automation, but they lack knowledge not just of the technology, but also of the knowledge and experience necessary to implement it. They’re concerned that if they adopt automation and lack the skills to apply it correctly, if they attempt to impose it on inefficient processes, and if they don’t have the right skills to effectively scale and manage, they may not realize the full potential. Worse still, they may create even bigger issues for the business. What’s more, they think: “And it’s not just the technology that’s an investment. Those skills we need—well, they cost money, too.”

The good news is not just that proof-of-concept (PoC) implementations needn’t be expensive, but that acquiring the requisite expertise can also be achieved cost-effectively. Many major vendors and service providers such as Capgemini are willing to assist with PoC trials and can bring with them knowledge of the appropriateness of a solution to the task in hand—whether that solution be based on RPA, AI or machine learning, separately or in combination.

The knowledge of these advisors can make an invaluable contribution to building the internal automation team—an “automation hit-team,” if you will. The right service providers know what constitutes best practice and how it can best be tailored to individual circumstances. They know how to reduce risk of failure. They know how to ramp up and both implement and manage at scale.

In addition, service providers bring a flexible resource pool. Skills are there when demand peaks but once the in-house team grows in size, knowledge, and confidence, our role can diminish. Just as the technology itself means in-house teams can be freed of low-level activities so they can focus on more demanding tasks, so our availability as a resource gives client organizations flexibility they wouldn’t otherwise have. Internal and external teams can work together just as humans and bots do.

The time has come

The potential benefits of automation are too great to allow doubts about technology, cost and skills to stand in their way—especially when those doubts can be so effectively overcome.

It’s time for business to take the next step. It’s time to automate.

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