Employers and Employees Agree: Let Robots Take Over Non-Core Tasks!

What jumps to mind when you hear the words “work automation”? Maybe the topic leaves you indifferent. Maybe it’s anxiety that your job will go to the robots. Or maybe you think, “Gee, I wish a robot would take over the more mundane tasks so I can focus on the more valuable and interesting parts of my job.”

Recent research supports that last sentiment. According to WorkMarket 2020 In(Sight) Report: What AI & Automation Really Mean for Work, released earlier this month, automation stands to free workers from repetitive non-core responsibilities, while the AI revolution is still comparatively far off. Worker attitudes toward workforce automation tend to differ depending on seniority and industry.

This report comes out of an April survey of 200 business leaders and 202 employees across industries. In the context of the report, business leaders refer to those who hold management roles, manage employees and have a lot or some influence in their companies’ business decisions. The term “employees” is used for survey respondents who are mid- or entry-level, do not manage other employees and do not have influence in business decisions.

There are significant differences between the surveyed business leaders and employees in how they view automation. Fifty-two percent of business leaders said that they’re interested in workforce automation, whereas nearly one in three employees are indifferent. However, a majority of both groups agree that their jobs could be at least partially automated.

Source: WorkMarket 2020 In(Sight) Report

For business leaders especially, automation would allow them to free up time previously spent on non-core tasks, such as technological issues and expense management. As the chart above shows, 70% of business leaders say that up to 40% of their time is spent on mundane tasks. This is not as much the case for employees.

Attitudes toward automation also differ by industry. The report found that those in the telecommunications (47%) and financial services (46%) industries tend to be more interested in automation than retail (36%) or media and entertainment (32%).

What Gets Automated?

Survey respondents tend to agree that data processing would be the first to go. Also high on the list are accounting, IT and administrative roles. In contrast, few respondents thought that legal, management or business development roles would be easy to automate, which is not surprising, given that these roles are less repetitive and require more “social” skills.

Ninety percent of respondents said that their organizations would benefit from automation. As repetitive and mundane tasks come with a degree of human error, automation can provide a considerable advantage by eliminating manual mistakes and increasing speed of task completion. Of course, not every task would be a good candidate for automation, and “lack of personal touch” is cited as a top business risk.

Nevertheless, automation would free up time that business leaders and employees alike can use on perfecting other projects (41%), helping clients (33%) and pursuing new business opportunities (28%).

But what does this mean for procurement specifically?

Spend Matters UK/Europe’s Peter Smith recently organized a pub debate with SAP Ariba on whether a robot takeover of procurement is imminent (as in by 2020). You can read the arguments for and against the takeover — which largely revolved around how important the “human” touch is in this field — and tell us where you stand in the comments below.

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