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Why businesses will need to make change the new normal

The lockdown is forcing organisations to change how they operate, and a new study has found that businesses are keen to use automation where possible

Businesses will need to consider how they adapt to operating under the continued threat of coronavirus, and many will call on IT to provide support for remote access and to automate human-intensive business processes.

Charles Towers-Clark, global chairman of Pod Group and author of The Weird CEO, described the changes that organisations have made during the lockdown as “almost like change on steroids”. He added: “The silver lining of Covid-19 is that it has forced people to make a change. In offices, this is geared to digital tools.”

For Towers-Clark, one of the effects of the lockdown is that people have changed their attitude to change. “The world has changed,” he said. “Those who don’t make changes will lose out.” 

Across all sectors, organisations will need to assess how they operate under social distancing measures, given that a Covid-19 vaccine is potentially years away. This will inevitably lead to people who can work remotely continuing to do so rather than going into an office.

According to Towers-Clark, managers have to trust people to use the technology in the right way and trust that they do their work. A recent survey by Pod Group found that automation is now high on organisations’ agenda.

Pod Group asked 500 business leaders from across the UK for their opinion on automation in industry in the light of the pandemic. Respondents were decision-makers in companies of 250-plus employees from a range of industries. Data was collected between 21 and 22 April, 2020.

The survey reported that 62% of leaders expected their companies to speed up plans to automate processes and 64% said they had already considered replacing processes carried out by employees with automation technology. Of the industries that took part in the study, the manufacturing, financial, and IT and telecommunications sectors had given this transformation the most thought – 77%, 75%, and 74%, respectively.

The belief that automation technology will help, or is already helping, employees to fulfil their potential and aspirations was shared by 73% of respondents. Business leaders in healthcare (64%), finance (72%), retail, catering and leisure (74%), and manufacturing (75%) all considered the introduction of such technology as having a positive effect on their employees.

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Decision-makers in the IT and telecommunications sector were even more confident on this point, with 85% agreeing that automation technology would reap benefits for their labour force. Conversely, a minority of business leaders – less than one in 10 – thought there was no advantage to process automation in this respect.

Cost savings (34%) were cited by the majority of business leaders as the principal driving force for automation, followed by less dependence on human labour (13%) and improved quality of work (13%). The only region not to cite cost savings as the main driver was the North East (18%), which considered time savings (36%) as the principal factor.

Pod Group’s survey found that the emphasis on cost savings was most pronounced in the retail sector, with just over half (51%) of decision-makers considering it the impetus for automation, while the same view was shared by 44% of finance companies. In the manufacturing sector, however, business leaders were more varied in their response, with 32% citing cost savings and 27% citing less dependence on human labour.

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