Businesses around the globe are realizing that digital transformation is no longer a distant, futuristic objective — it has arrived.

In response, some of these businesses are following the digital transformation playbook by rushing toward the process of implementing AI and automation within their workflows to beat the competition. The only problem is that companies are adopting AI and automation without careful, meticulous planning, which means that short-term gains can very soon be lost. If businesses implement these technologies, they must first explore how to use them in the most productive way to keep employees happy and maximize their investment.

Automation and AI increase productivity when implemented for mechanical and repetitive tasks, but they are less effective when applied to knowledge-based work or in collaborative environments. As a result, automation and AI are not making people as productive as expected. However, this shortcoming is not because of the technology itself, but rather because companies lack the culture and strategy needed for successful implementation. According to one McKinsey study, 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals in large part due to employee resistance.

When it comes down to it, there are two primary barriers that stop most companies from executing AI and automation in the most productive ways. By exploring these two missteps, businesses can better overcome these challenges.

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Barriers to Communication

In today’s business world, there is ample chatter about implementing automation and AI within the workplace. It’s very likely leaders within a company are aware of how automation can increase profits, productivity and other measured values of success. Yet for some reason, leaders often struggle to make it clear within their workforce how employees can personally benefit from automation. This ultimately hurts the process and can make implementation of this technology a failure.

The other hurdle facing intelligent automation is the lack of communication between business and IT and the tendency to look at work in silos. According to this Futurum study, fewer than 30 percent of a company’s technology vendors are actively involved in their digital transformations. There is a wealth of opportunity in cross-team collaboration between different departments — including top decision-makers and IT teams — to better understand how automation and AI can serve the business. It’s also critical to bring technology vendors into the fold to help understand the unique problems and differentiators within that particular company.

To optimize automation and business processes as a whole, it’s essential to avoid creating isolated inefficiencies throughout the business and instead work to optimize all departments. When companies break down these inefficiencies within the organization, they can increase employee engagement and willingness to implement new technologies.


Failing to Think Long Term

When business leaders are considering implementing automation, they often think in terms of mechanical operations replacing repetitive tasks. However, this particular type of automation is not useful for environments that lean heavily on collaboration and organizational knowledge.

According to Gartner, we surpassed one billion knowledge workers in the world in 2019, and that number will continue to go up as digital technologies like automation and AI take over those more repetitive tasks — leaving more room for knowledge-based jobs. A common trap organizations fall into is only focusing on the short-term impacts of automation. But by developing a cohesive, end-to-end strategy that leverages AI to free up these workers to focus on what they do best, companies have a better chance to achieve positive outcomes when implementing these technologies. By taking the time to visualize the long-term value of automation, it’s more likely that leaders within a company will understand where it can add maximum value. Later, those leaders can tweak the ways of working with automation and optimize its success.

It’s not enough for businesses to implement automation for a handful of critical tasks. For knowledge workers, the value of automation is not in individual tasks but in structured, automated collaboration across colleagues and systems. When focusing on the value of automation for the long term, businesses need to ensure they are agile in how they operate to keep automation from losing its value. If one way of working with automation is not to the standards of the business, it is a mistake to maintain it just because of the time that has already been invested in it — that’s simply chasing sunk costs. Flexibility is key when it comes to the success of implementing new technology.

Automation can optimize processes, improve quality of work and products — and provide a better service when the intended goal is to manage the flow of work. What’s imperative to success is truly understanding where automation can play the most impactful role based on the type of work being done rather than implementing AI just for the sake of doing so.

These challenges can be hard to overcome. But businesses can improve their chances of success by adopting a discovery mindset, and encouraging both experimentation and the delivery of value at every step. Before they even embark on this journey, business leaders should ask themselves: Who will truly benefit from the automation?

It is likely that AI and automation will indeed live up to their potential — if businesses and employees can answer in unison who they believe will benefit from their implementation. Leaders must build an enterprise-wide automation vision that articulates opportunity and value for all employees. It’s my view that AI and automation will help us achieve more in our work, and, as a result, help employees have more productive and enjoyable careers.

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