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Automation and Enterprise AI to Loom Large in 2021

By Drew Robb
Image of data center, enabling enterprise automation and AI.

A recent study by Gartner indicates that workforce automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will be major trends in 2021. AI has already been well-deployed in automating routine or highly repetitive tasks to allow employees to focus on higher-value work. But Gartner expects the deployment of AI and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies in the enterprise to accelerate sharply this year.

Global RPA software revenue, for example, is forecast to grow by 20% in 2021 and continue at a double-digit pace for several years to come. The manufacturing sector has been leading the way on this trend, particularly areas like automotive and computer chip making.

In the past, the cost of entry for the technology prevented many from adding robots to their processes. RPA has matured enough that more and more firms can afford it. Thus, we are seeing small-scale specialist shops now implementing robotic automation.

Meanwhile, AI is being used more to assist knowledge workers with nonroutine and cognitive tasks. This is highlighted by the greater prevalence of analytics and dashboards in so many facets of everyday work. Sales managers, production line supervisors, inventory managers and, of course, executives are being armed with analytics and, in many cases, AI-driven insights into trends and areas of potential improvement. The marketing sector, in particular, has become enamored with analytics, and ways to harness AI to milk more insight from social media and other data. Net-net: the days of the 100-slide weekly sales report are numbered.

Workforce Automation Promotes Work From Home

The COVID-19 pandemic, too, has forced many organizations to embrace work from home. With lockdowns and restrictions extended in many areas, HR departments and management have been wrestling with problems such as how to ensure staff are productive, how to enhance collaboration, and how to promote a feeling of togetherness among a dispersed group. Automation is playing its part here courtesy of workforce automation software and collaboration tools that use AI. That’s why Gartner predicts that 48% of employees are likely to continue working remotely post-pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend, forcing many organizations to move a large proportion, if not all, of their workforce to remote work,” said Gartner analyst Rashmi Choudhary. “Post-COVID-19, many employees will want to work remotely more than they did prior to the pandemic.”

This is giving rise to a hybrid workforce consisting of a mix of internal and external workers. This will not only lower costs, it will reduce the need for expensive office space, and extend the hiring perimeter beyond the local area. “In 2020, organizations across the world experienced a sudden surge in remote workers,” said Choudhary.

“During this shift, workforce automation, digital dexterity, and hybrid working delivered significant business value, revenue growth and helped organizations maintain business continuity."

This article was originally published on 02-02-2021