Entering the next frontier of enterprise automation

With an ever-evolving business and economic environment, organisations need to be agile and responsive more than ever. This means there is no room to delay implementation of technologies that help evolve digital transformation, future-proof business growth, and transform for the future of work. In recent years, intelligent automation has emerged as a game changer to support the digitisation of workflows and hybrid working arrangements, as well as the improvement of operational efficiencies.

However, these are just a fraction of the benefits that organisations can enjoy.

Hence, organisations have realised that automation has become an important accelerator to achieve growth and reimagine themselves to create new possibilities for their customers, operations, and employees.

Investment in automation across APJ is accelerating

In particular, the impetus for automation is gaining speed in Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ). Two-thirds of organisations across the APJ region have increased their automation spending between 2020 and 2021, and are expecting to invest more in the next three years, according to an IDC survey. Importantly, about three-fifths of APJ organisations surveyed – and about half of respondents in Singapore – will scale or achieve an enterprise-wide robotic process automation (RPA) deployment by 2025.

Simultaneously, the intelligent automation software market in APJ is estimated to grow to US$5.5 billion in 2025, up from US$2.3 billion in 2020, highlighting the immense potential of software automation in the next few years. Today, over 90% of the organisations in Australia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and China underscore their shifting focus toward intelligent process automation. In Singapore, this stands at 98%.

The growing significance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) and environmental sustainability has also contributed to the increase in automation spending. Over 30% of APJ respondents in the IDC survey say that they are working towards automating ESG and sustainability use cases next, an increase from 13% in 2022.

However, despite promising signs for the future of automation, many organisations face a myriad of — but addressable — challenges in implementing enterprise-wide automation programs.

Challenges in implementing enterprise-wide automation

Most organisations in APJ understand the benefits of an enterprise-wide automation program, along with its ability to transform the future of work. However, an overwhelming 91% of APJ organisations — and 84% in Singapore — still do not have an enterprise-wide RPA program in place.

Many of them find it difficult to scale up their automation program, with more than half attributing it to:

  • Challenges such as the lack of automation skills and talent, and 
  • Difficulties in identifying the right automation software with modern and modular architecture to match their legacy systems.

Unsurprisingly, these challenges are also the primary considerations for APJ organisations when considering end-to-end enterprise grade automation solutions.

Keys to overcome challenges

In the future of work, citizen-led development and comprehensive training and development programs are some of the keys to bridge these automation gaps for organisations.

On one hand, the prominence of low-code/no-code automation platforms is making way for citizen-led development, which includes the involvement of non-IT domain employees in supercharging automation initiatives across the region. Allowing citizen developers to develop their own automations with an IT-approved enterprise platform is the way forward to democratise and scale automation.

About 44% of APJ organisations already have non-IT employees involved in automating parts of their work, and another 39% plan to make this happen. VITAL, the shared services arm of the Singapore government, is an organisation with a citizen-developer program to help them scale automation faster. This allows employees to build robots for themselves using low- or no-code tools, which can also reduce the pressure on automation developers, freeing up their time to focus on advanced automations for the business.

Similarly, automation training is non-negotiable as organisations must run a comprehensive training program with a focus on reskilling and upskilling across teams and units, which only 38% of the APJ organisations are currently doing, to build a hybrid human-digital workforce of the future. This goes up to 42% in Singapore, although it paints a similar picture to the regional average.

On the flipside, to democratise automation and other AI capabilities, establishing centres of excellence led by change agents from an organisation’s business and IT units will catalyse the support system for new ways of working. It is also essential to embed governance capabilities and security from day one to manage the entire life cycle of the automation journey.

Last but not least, organisations should incorporate automation metrics to align with key business outcomes and ROI for all automation processes and workflows. Since organisations are playing for the long haul, automation must be considered a journey that builds success and more value over time.

Leaders must elevate their automation mindset

In essence, it is clear that APJ organisations recognise the benefits that come along with enterprise-wide automation. Although recognising the pain points to scale enterprise-wide automation is a step in the right direction, organisation leaders must also emphasise the value of a continuous learning mindset to its workforce. Not only will it align with the organisation’s automation strategy, it can also improve employee productivity and foster creativity in directing their mental capacity towards more meaningful work.

To level up, organisations in APJ must elevate their automation mindset by leveraging a holistic strategy with executive buy-in, coupled with a robust employee upskilling and training program. Automation at scale will be pivotal for growth and transformation for the future of work.