The dark side of automation – Why companies need to think ahead for sustainable success

Why companies need to think beyond short-term benefits

The article deals with the importance of responsible automation in companies. While automation can lead to efficiency gains and cost savings, it is important to also consider the impact on employees, society and the environment. The article provides specific recommendations on what companies should consider when automating, including involving teams, considering ethical standards, and regularly evaluating impact. Only through responsible automation can companies achieve long-term success and positive impact.

Business process automation for efficiency gains and cost savings

In many companies, automating processes is an important strategy for improving efficiency and saving costs. In times of digital transformation, business process automation is becoming increasingly important to stay ahead of the competition. According to a 2018 study by McKinsey, companies can increase their productivity by up to 60% by automating business processes.

One example of this is the automation of production processes. Companies can speed up production while reducing errors by using robots. One company that has successfully implemented this strategy is BMW. The company has more than 7,000 robots in use at its production facilities worldwide to automate the production process. Through automation, BMW has been able to reduce production time per vehicle by up to 50% while increasing the quality of the vehicles produced.

In addition to improving efficiency, automation processes can also help to reduce the workload of employees and create opportunities for them to focus on higher-value, creative and strategic tasks. One example of this is the automation of customer inquiries in customer service. By using chatbots, companies can significantly reduce the number of inquiries that need to be handled by service agents. This results in employees being able to focus on complex inquiries that require human interaction.

Automation is not a panacea

Unfortunately, I’m seeing an increasing trend toward automation in various industries and organizations with the primary goal of reducing costs and cutting full-time positions. While these goals may bring short-term benefits, such a narrow focus on immediate gains can lead to numerous negative impacts on organizational culture, employee well-being, and even society and humanity in general.

For one thing, automation is not a panacea for bad processes. What should be clear to everyone by now is that automating a bad process does not magically transform it into a good process. And even the smartest automation can’t “fix” a bad process. So it’s important to look at any process you want to automate.

Introducing responsible automation

Second, companies need to make sure that when they introduce automation, they also consider the impact on their employees, society and the environment. According to a 2020 study by Deloitte, 36% of workers surveyed are concerned about the impact of automation on their work. Responsible automation is critical to ensure long-term success and meet the demands of the changing world of work.

Automating processes can lead to employees being freed up to focus on other tasks. This can help the company as a whole to become more efficient and able to respond more quickly to changes. However, companies should also make sure that employees are not underchallenged or even lose their jobs. Companies should ensure that their teams are involved in the planning and implementation of automation processes so that they can continue to play an important role in the company in the future. Training and retraining measures can help prepare employees for the changing world of work and expand their skills. The Siemens company, for example, has developed a comprehensive program of retraining and advanced training for employees with its Digital Academy to prepare them for the changing demands of automation.

In addition, the impact on society and the environment should also be considered. Automation can lead to job losses and further increase social inequality. Companies should therefore assume social responsibility and work toward sustainable development. This includes, for example, companies investing in education and training to support society. The environmental aspect should also be taken into account when automating processes. Automation can help reduce energy consumption and thus contribute to sustainability. However, companies should also make sure that automation does not create new environmental burdens. This includes, for example, the use of recycled materials or the reduction of waste. One example of a company that is taking exemplary action in this regard is Patagonia. Patagonia has set itself the goal of being completely CO2 neutral by 2025 and is relying on the automation of processes to reduce energy consumption and thus contribute to sustainability.

Companies should also consider ethical issues when introducing automation processes. What data is collected and how is it used? Are decisions made based on algorithms that may be discriminatory? Companies should ensure that automation meets ethical standards and does not discriminate or disadvantage certain groups of people. Open communication and transparency towards customers and employees is crucial in this regard.

5 principles for responsible automation

To implement responsible automation, companies should follow these steps:

  1. Involvement of employees: Employees should be involved in the planning and implementation process and receive appropriate training.
  2. Sustainability: Companies should ensure that the automation of processes contributes to sustainability and does not create new environmental burdens.
  3. Ethics: Companies should ensure that automation complies with ethical standards and does not discriminate or disadvantage certain groups of people.
  4. Open communication: Companies should communicate openly and transparently about the introduction of automation processes and also address possible impacts on employees, society and the environment.
  5. Evaluation: Companies should regularly evaluate the effects of automation and make adjustments where necessary to ensure that automation has long-term success and positive effects.

Automating processes has the potential to help companies respond more quickly to change and become more efficient. Responsible automation emphasizes the need to consider the long-term consequences of implementing automated systems, rather than focusing only on short-term cost savings. By taking a holistic view of automation, companies can make informed decisions and ensure that automation is also socially and environmentally responsible.

As the "Head of Data Strategy & Data Culture" at O2 Telefónica, Britta champions data-driven business transformation. She is also the founder of "," a platform dedicated to empowering change-makers in the corporate and business sectors. Before her current role, Britta established an Artificial Intelligence department at IBM, where she spearheaded the implementation of AI programs for various corporations. She is the author of "The Disruption DNA" (2021), a book that motivates individuals to take an active role in digital transformation.

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