The year 2018 marked a record-breaking year in artificial intelligence (AI) investments. With such significant investment, I was shocked to learn that 43% of organizations lack a clear strategy for AI and 25% lack the technological infrastructure needed for their AI to function, according to McKinsey & Company.
Similarly, all dollar signs point to automation as the inevitable future of the digital enterprise, but the hype surrounding it has caused a cart-before-the-horse mentality. Organizations haven’t completed the foundational work needed to ensure that they have the strategy and infrastructure in place to capitalize on their automation investments.
Below, learn the three critical challenges companies adopting automation technology can anticipate along with recommended strategies for how to overcome these challenges.
Technology adoption isn’t slowing down. While eager CIOs are moving to mandate the use of new tools and processes, the fact of the matter is IT teams are already stretched thin managing cybersecurity, connectivity and data quality projects, among other critical priorities.
IT teams are constantly tasked with reconciling new and legacy technologies as they integrate thousands of disconnected systems and devices across the enterprise. On the surface, it may seem like automation would only add to the sense of complexity. It’s just another layer of tech, another system to manage. But, if implemented properly, automation can be a godsend for technology overload, making the lives of IT practitioners significantly easier.
• Choose an open ecosystem. As IT evaluates its technology stack, be wary of vendor lock-in. Instead, favor open ecosystem, standards-based and multi-vendor solutions so you can deploy best-of-breed products and services that fit your unique business needs. This will give you the most flexibility to adapt to changing requirements.
• Plan to fail fast and try again. Different business units will use automation tools in different ways. There is no playbook or one-size-fits-all approach. Start by identifying which of your business priorities are most ripe for automation and evaluate the best approach for each use case. And when you fail, make the most of the failure: Share why the project didn’t work and gather input on what to try next. For most organizations, automation is a journey and you need to move at your own pace.
Even with significant investments being made in automation technology, a healthy dose of skepticism remains, especially when AI and ML are involved. Forrester found that 45% of decision-makers say trusting the AI system is either challenging or very challenging. This is in part due to fear of automation replacing jobs and uncertainty about how human and machine intelligence can best work together to drive meaningful business outcomes.
Often, when people think about automation, their minds race toward things like autonomous vehicles. Understandably, many folks are apprehensive about letting go of the wheel and ceding control to their cars. But automation is different than autonomy, and it doesn’t need to mean you’re “letting go” completely. Rather, automation is meant to assist.
In the enterprise, automation can be deployed to take care of routine and monotonous tasks, such as configuration, optimization and troubleshooting, and give humans the ability to focus on higher-level projects that require greater intelligence, creativity and decision-making.
Business leaders can anticipate and address company-wide uncertainty about automation technology by conveying the benefits it will provide. Here are two tactics to consider:
• Give permission to start small. Rather than ceding total control to software overnight, consider a programmatic, iterative approach to automation. Start by automating manual administrative tasks that will save teams the most time and then ramp up to larger automated workflows as employees become more comfortable with the technology.
• Acknowledge progress and champion automation wins. Highlight what’s possible now that wasn’t before with teams that have found success. For example, you can point to cost savings, expanded business offerings, or reduced time spent on administrative tasks that allow employees to focus on more creative initiatives and growth strategies.
Automation won’t eliminate the need for human intelligence, but it will revolutionize what employees do on a day-to-day basis. Resilient businesses and their employees evolve alongside technological advancements and have throughout history — from the industrial revolution to the dot-com bubble to the digital transformation initiatives of today.
Of course, transformations don’t come without growing pains. New technology requires new expertise that may be difficult to find. IDC predicts that at least 30% of global IT jobs will be vacant by 2022 due to the limited numbers of workers with digital skills in automation, AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies.
Businesses should consider these two tactics to bridge the skills gap:
• Prioritize upskilling and training. Though some companies opt to recruit new, full-time employees with specialized expertise, consider the value of upskilling your existing workforce and teaching teams how to use new software, automation, and analytics tools. Not only will these trainings expand their capabilities and enrich their professional development, but your existing workforce has a unique vantage point in that they can understand how legacy technology and new automation approaches fit together.
• When in doubt, outsource. You can (and should) also look to trusted advisors and expert opinions from analysts, partners, colleagues, consultants and industry leaders to find the best solution for your business. Outsourcing the management of automation projects will allow you to continue to modernize your day-to-day operations as you reeducate existing employees and seek new talent.
Automation in the enterprise is here to stay. Many businesses have already made significant strides in adopting cutting-edge technologies and services. However, as with any technological advancements, businesses are facing challenges related to executing that will impact their operations for years to come. Resilient enterprises that embrace automation, anticipate its challenges, and recognize the importance of foundational infrastructure and strategy to support it, will thrive.
This blog was originally posted on Forbes on October 11, 2019.