A far cry from its early days on factory production lines, automation has entered into our organizations and found a place in the operations of every department – and it isn't going anywhere.
Combined with robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), automation takes care of the mundane tasks we'd rather not spend time on, the work we don't want to mess up with human error, customer interactions that require instant responses and so much more.
While automation has been evolving at lightning speed over the last few years, it doesn't look like it's slowing down. As we automate more business processes, we're on the path of an interesting long-term paradox: despite a century of creating machines to do our work for us, the proportion of adults in the US with a job has consistently gone up for the past 125 years. So how is it affecting our work?
Here's what the future of automation looks like – and how your company can start getting ahead right now.
1. Automating high-quality experiences
Right now, the low-hanging fruit for automation is boring repetitive work. Automating front-office functions is harder, but this will become more accessible in the future as automation becomes more intelligent.
More organizations will soon be using technology to automate quality customer experiences. 35% of consumers want to see more companies using chatbots, while 72% expect agents to know their profile and purchase history.
However, this doesn't mean that customer support roles will become obsolete any time soon. According to McKinsey Global Institute, less than 30 percent of what customer service representatives do has the technical potential for automation.
2. Marketing, sales and success alignment
73% of sales teams say that collaborating across departments is critical or very important to their overall sales process. Automation makes it easier for organizations to be aligned. Many CRMs can now facilitate contact handovers and data sharing as a contact moves from marketing lead, to sales lead, to customer.
3. Automation will be a vital part of CRMs
Three-quarters of sales professionals use technology – usually a CRM – to close more deals. Despite this, today’s salespeople spend just 34% of their time selling and more time caught up with admin and data entry.
As sales and marketing teams realize the potential of automation to tackle repetitive tasks, more of the top CRM tools are developing powerful automation features. These will enable companies to automate routine tasks to speed up sales cycles, send personalized marketing messages and proactively resolve customer service cases without lifting a finger.
4. Automation for greater personalization
The best customer interactions are personalized. After setting up audience segments based on certain criteria, customized messages can be automatically sent to the right people at the best time – and deliver six times higher transaction rates.
When asked to prioritize one capability that will be most important to marketing in the future, 33% of marketers said personalization.
5. AI will become easier to deploy
If AI was ever more at home in sci-fi movies than our offices, that's no longer the case. AI is increasingly a part of the business tools we know and love, from CRMs to email marketing tools.
In the future, we may not even realize we're deploying AI – it will simply look like better customer experience, sales or marketing.
6. Business chatbots will act as full-time agents
While today's businesses mostly use live chat to facilitate real-time conversations between consumer and business representative, more companies are setting up chatbots.
With bots, companies can provide answers to frequently asked questions and even resolve issues without a team member's involvement. Increasingly, the best chatbots serve as full-time customer support agents. The key for a bot's success is intelligence, which still has its limitations but is improving fast.
In the future of automation, bots will become more useful, more intelligent and may soon incorporate voice.
7. AI will be used for automated decision-making
Decision making is tiring. You need the right data at your fingertips, to look beyond your biases and get agreement from other stakeholders. AI will increasingly provide a solution to this, delivering high-quality data that can help inform the best decisions.
While some decisions can be instantly acted on with automation, many will – and should – go back to humans for consideration from an emotional and empathetic side.
8. Automating data collection and reporting
CEOs spend almost 20% of their time on work that could be automated, such as analyzing operational data and reviewing status reports.
However, reporting doesn't have to involve confusing Excel exports and hours spent manipulating data. By consolidating all of your customer data with an iPaaS solution, your tools can deliver more accurate reporting with the information at hand.
9. Automation across a company's app stack
Businesses have more tools than ever before at their fingertips. Estimates vary, but the number of tools used by an average enterprise can be as high as 1,935 apps.
In the future of automation, more companies will have a Head of Business Systems role to oversee their huge number of tools – and this position will hold a vast capacity for impact and change.
More than ever, the SaaS tools we choose will help our businesses to become more productive, profitable, and impactful. For best results, companies will connect their tools to enable automated two-way data syncing and greater accuracy.
10. RPA will help businesses become more productive
In Deloitte's Global RPA Survey 2018, 53% of respondents had already started their journey with robotic process automation (RPA) to increase operational efficiencies. This is expected to rise to 72% by 2020.
RPA, also referred to as ‘robotics’ or ‘robots’, is defined as the automation of rules-based processes with software that utilizes the user interface and which can run on any software, including web-based applications, ERP systems and mainframe systems. This could include opening emails and attachments, moving files and folders or filling in forms.
Going forward, RPA is likely to become a more standard part of our workflows, whether via stand-alone tools, features of the tools we're already using or integrated apps.
Is automation changing work as we know it?
The short answer is yes. Between 400 million and 800 million individuals could be displaced by automation and need to find new jobs by 2030 around the world, but economic growth, rising productivity and other forces could more than offset the losses, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute.
The role of automation is to take care of the tasks that machines can do better than us – and at least for the near future, this doesn't include creativity, management or friendly 1-1 human interaction.
When we automate our business processes, we don't have to lose the human sides of marketing, sales, service and management – it can free up more time for them.
For best results, create an automation strategy that helps your team to focus on their most important work. Choose automation tools that free up time, connect your overall tech stack and boost productivity as well as morale.