Automation and sustainability - the modern-day equivalent of the chicken and egg scenario. Putting any notion of veganism to one side, organisations need to be dining out on both if they are to be future-proofed.
As the dust settles on COP26, the failure to reach a strong enough agreement of a reduction in fossil fuels has grabbed the headlines but it cannot - must not - be the lead (or coal) weight that drags down progress. We must look elsewhere to best equip ourselves to battle the forces of climate change and drive sustainability forward. This is where automation and orchestration can play a significant role.
The opportunity to combine automation with sustainability is now
The drive to use technology as an enabler to cut carbon, improve efficiencies and increase productivity is not a new one, as any Henry Ford enthusiast will tell you. But the situation now means we need to accelerate our efforts for widespread adoption. To continue the analogy, we need to go from being a Fiesta (reliable, accessible and uncomplicated) to a Mustang (rapid, brave and bold). And because we’re not approaching this from a standing start, the opportunity to combine automation with sustainability is now.
A new study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research and SnapLogic - ‘Automation: Past, Present, and Future - A Driving Force for Economic Growth’ – has found that investments in automation are directly linked to increased business revenues (up 5-7%), job growth (up 4-7%), and long-term productivity (up 15%). Spurred on by the pandemic, the adoption of automation is accelerating, with companies in the U.S. and UK spending 8-13% of their annual revenues on automation-related technologies.
According to Forrester, European businesses will invest between €2.4 and €3.3 billion in automation to boost productivity — including in lower-wage sectors. Forrester calculated that in 2020, European companies invested a total of €1.88 billion in employee productivity automation tools such as digital process automation (DPA), digital decision-making platforms, workforce optimisation, conversational intelligence, robotic process automation (RPA), and AI-based text analytics. The research house estimates that growth in 2022 will be at about 33% for RPA and 13% for DPA.
Sustainability doesn’t sit in silos
This increase in investment is critical because, despite all the progress made so far, more needs to be done - much more. For instance, Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory technologies can enable reduced wastage through better control and visibility; better efficiencies leading to energy savings; increased productivity; improved quality through insights from the data collected, and more. But all of those benefits can be magnified and extrapolated if automation technologies do not sit in silos.
We need to bring parallel investments in digital and sustainability together. There are some great examples cited in this article in Computer Weekly, ‘How tech can help companies make bigger strides towards sustainability’, and in this recent Accenture report. These are the kinds of projects that are making the transformative changes the planet needs. But for that to happen on a universal level, business leaders need to think differently about why a specific technology or digital platform is the right answer, how it integrates with existing platforms, and processes how they can use it to make that leap forward in sustainability.
Automation isn’t enough
Like any complex problem, there isn't a simple solution. The answer certainly isn’t to throw money at the problem, less so to look to automate as much as possible. Blending technology investments with sustainability goals is the foundation and realising it is orchestration - ensuring each process, person, plan and protocol is efficiently connected so that information and data are exchanged, shared, and acted on in the most efficient manner. Business leaders need the right data, to make the right decision at the right time and this needs to be replicable thousands of times every day and in every organisation globally.
By proxy, it also means evolving jobs for humans where bots can shoulder the burden of admin or grunt work freeing up individuals to do more of the things we’re good at. For example, instead of reviewing spreadsheets and data pertaining to how many and of what type of trees need plating, when and where, this job can be assigned to a bot with the worker now free to move into a project management role, taking greater responsibility for an organisation's ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) activity. Indeed, this Greenbiz article highlights, ‘Demand for ESG experts is booming across professional services, including at finance and investment firms, management consultancies, boutique advisory firms, and real estate companies as well as NGOs and business associations… It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. The problem is that there simply aren’t enough hands, especially those with the skills needed to meet the moment.”
Orchestration fundamental to the fight
What happened at COP26 is a microcosm of the wider world - when it comes to sustainability and automation, we have to get people and things talking to each other, in real-time and with useful data that can be acted on. This needs to happen on a micro and macro level and means that orchestration isn’t simply a nice-to-have. It’s fundamental to the fight.
Unfortunately, we can’t orchestrate politicians and world leaders. Perhaps if we could, we’d be a lot further along to solving our climate crisis.