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Workforce: Make people and culture the heart of your automation strategy

The new wave of automation is less specialized and more democratized than ever before. While smarter automation does require more IT specialists, simpler automation will affect even the most basic business processes so you’ll need to give people reasons to feel confident and try something new. Working with “no code” and “low-code” automation tools is a big change that empowers departments to solve their own problems one at a time, rather than relying on big waves of IT-driven implementations.

Leaders will need to put energy toward addressing the people issues that arise with automation, so everyone can get accustomed to being part of an organization that is constantly evolving. Team members can lead by playing to the strengths of their corporate culture and by tying the automation agenda to the reasons why people are at the organization in the first place—to provide great customer experiences, have the most efficient shop or be the most innovative. Linking automation efforts to what already makes teams strong can tap into energy, pride and motivation.

GE went from 400 ERP systems to 125 in five years, with over 100 automation bots helping to fill in the gaps among them.

Automation will create change in every function

At GE, the finance department is embracing change. It went from 400 ERP systems to 125 in five years, with over 100 automation bots helping to fill in the gaps among them. But the bots are a temporary fix. The digital bots save people time, and thus give the finance department extra bandwidth—human brainpower—to think through problems and transform processes. Ultimately, the department won’t need half of those bots as the transformation unfolds. The finance professionals have a different day-to-day experience: they spend more time programming software (albeit in a low-code way) rather than using software and more time thinking through processes in a strategic way that might even lead to different career paths.

Automation also changes the role of the IT professional: The more an organization re-routes simple automation to its functions, the more time it will gain to focus on large-scale intelligent automation. It’s an opportunity for IT to shed its sometimes-reputation as a bottleneck to getting technology projects done. With that said, IT needs a seat at the table early on to establish a governance framework.

Automation may even change the role of global shared services centers, shifting the focus from transactions and changing what services are offered altogether. Automation sets up opportunities to rethink these organizations and how they run.

Don’t overlook automation’s impact on employee engagement

Automating rote tasks wins converts quickly. Imagine how gate agents or healthcare professionals could spend more time personally interacting with travelers or patients, rather than typing on computer keyboards. People will need to learn new skills and have time to adapt to new routines, and leaders must arm them with the tools to be successful. Leadership should also be supportive as employees spend time focusing on different activities, even if their job descriptions don’t change. Leaders should also acknowledge that some employees will be anxious about automation eventually replacing their jobs.

Indeed, PwC does not have blinders on about the eventual impact of automation. Transformation inevitably includes changes to the workforce, and clerical work is most at risk. But the wholesale transformation of the structure of the labor force is still many years away, according to our research. And even in a more advanced autonomous wave of automation—when intelligent automation replaces decision-making as well as rote tasks—humans should be in the loop to train and validate machine learning, as well as to determine which automation approach is best in a particular circumstance. Humans will also continue to monitor processes and fill in the gaps where automation still isn’t fully effective.

People will need to learn new skills and have time to adapt to new routines, and leaders must arm them with the tools to be successful.

Key takeaways

Fit automation into your culture, not the other way around

Automation can be successful within any corporate culture. But it requires linking automation efforts directly to company values and ways of working. Consider how initiatives help employees better deliver on shared goals.


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Improve the day-to-day, every day

Automation will empower people in every function to make continuous improvements. If employees are part of the change, experience its benefits and see the potential for their career growth, they will embrace automation.


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Revise roles with a purpose

Simple and larger-scale automation could affect just about everyone’s role, job content and decision rights. Be transparent about what that means for employees—and provide the tools and upskilling needed to thrive in an evolving environment.

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Contact us

Andy Ruggles

Andy Ruggles

US Data Automation and Global Alteryx Alliance Leader, PwC US

Michael Engel

Michael Engel

PwC's Intelligent Process Automation Leader, PwC US

Chris Curran

Chris Curran

Chief Technologist, New Ventures, PwC US

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