- The pandemic caused a "big rush" to automation technology, especially for companies that hadn't yet committed resources to the technology, said Alan Hester, president of Nividous Software Solutions, speaking on the Introduced by Technical.ly conference Friday.
- "It's not that they were on the fence" on whether or not to adopt, Hester said. Companies might have already decided to pursue automation technology but had "nothing really pushing them towards it."
- Among businesses faced with increased demand, the technology provided an avenue to meet current needs and scale without adding new staff.
Automation is helping trucking companies make operations more efficient. Roadrunner, for example, installed dock automation for shipment tracking and reduced transit times in over 500 lanes this year. And Schneider Chief Financial Officer Steve Bruffett said after Q1 that the carrier is "accelerating" investments in automation through its Quest platform.
The coronavirus has added momentum to the adoption of automation. Among lessons reaped from the pandemic, the key takeaway in automation is its irreversibility. Once a task becomes automated, it's unlikely to revert to manual process.
A Forrester survey of global decision makers — at manager level or above — found 48% of organizations plan to increase robotic process automation spend by 5% or more in 2021. For companies preparing to deploy artificial intelligence, 40% said automation was a priority, a separate study found.
The focus on robotic process automation is sharper among large organizations, which are set to triple existing portfolios, according to Gartner projections. Nine in 10 large organizations expect to deploy some form of robotic process automation in the next two years, Gartner projected.
Currently, enterprises use bots for tasks such as data processing, customer engagement or onboarding. But the majority of tasks that are subject to automation remain undiscovered, according to provider of robotic prcess automation Automation Anywhere.
Business leaders see automation that takes menial, repetitive work off a worker's to-do list as a driver for employee satisfaction. "People are more engaged with their job," said Hester. "They're more excited to come to work because they're doing the things that they want to do and the things that they are best at."
The automation industry is creating the need for a more skilled worker, said Joel Reed, interim executive director of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network. Even at the lower levels of compensation, these workers will be earning more.
However, the automation rush thrust forward by the pandemic disproportionately affected nonwhite workers, a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found.
"We have to figure out how to address inequality as we continue to change the tools that we have as a society," Reed said.
Information technology chiefs are seeking solutions in the vendor market that will have a return on investment, as economic uncertainty crimped IT budgets.