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Realizing the benefifits

Events of the past 18 months have triggered a radical shift in the way enterprises interact with their employees, partners and customers as lockdowns and social distancing have revealed weaknesses in established business models. This has undermined confidence in old certainties and as a result there’s an increasing awareness that there are better ways to operate.

The growing acceptance of a digital-first approach, with an emphasis on enabling employees to make more informed decisions and work more efficiently by reducing the complexity of their jobs, is driving that realization. The force that is making this a reality is the pairing of automation tools and artificial intelligence (AI).

Infusing AI into automation can drive innovation and cost-saving efficiencies by, for example, integrating machine learning and natural language processing into decision-making. This helps to transform business processes and IT operations into intelligent workflows that connect data from disparate systems, streamline processes and generate actionable insights. Taken together, they can accelerate service delivery for an improved experience for customers, employees and users, as well as help improve bottom-line results.

However, across Europe the adoption of AI for automation in uneven. There are some clear winners and some underperformers, reveals research by IBM.

The European overview
According to the study, which was carried out by Morning Consult across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, more than half (56 percent) of European IT professionals report that their company is already using automation tools (France 55 percent, Germany 59 percent, Italy 59 percent, Spain 60 percent, UK 49 percent). A further 19 percent report that their employer plans to adopt their use during the next 12 months.

This is encouraging as AI-powered automation enables organizations to apply intelligence across their operations, bridging gaps in workflows. However, the reasons for embracing these tools aren’t uniform and there are clear winners and losers in terms of adoption rates.

The primary driver for using automation software is to help make employees more productive, according to respondents from most countries. Spain leads the way – 39 percent of respondents cited this as the main reason for adopting AI-powered automation. It was followed by Germany (36 percent), France (33 percent) and Italy (31 percent). The UK was the sole exception; although 29 percent cited productivity as a factor, 31 percent of companies were more influenced by cost savings.

Getting active with automation
The IBM study also reveals that more than a third of European IT professionals are using, or considering using, automation capabilities for activity monitoring (34 percent); a further 33 percent say automating IT operations is a favored application. In addition, half of respondents say their company is already employing, or considering, automation solutions to drive great efficiencies in processes and tasks; 48 percent are deploying them, or contemplating implementing them, to drive down costs.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to reshape how we live and work – its impact has seen businesses work overtime to meet the needs of customers, while ensuring employees are productive and safe. This has squeezed margins and hampered competitiveness so it’s little wonder that more than a third (34 percent) of respondents said making employees more productive influenced their decision to use automation tools.

The IBM data also reveals that European IT professionals at larger companies are more likely to report that their organization is using AI for data security and automation of processes (29 percent vs 22 percent), while smaller companies are more likely to report that they are using AI and automation for customer care (26 percent vs 23 percent).

Improved business performance
The benefits outlined by respondents are proven in real-world applications and there’s no better example than the value AI-powered automation has delivered to Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline – a sector that has felt the full brunt of the pandemic.

The carrier recognized early on that with the right data and AI strategy, it could improve customer services, empower employees and improve operational efficiency. The airline therefore worked with IBM and its cloud computing services to move from AI proof-of-concepts to scaling data science projects across the organization. Lufthansa built a computer platform enabling its data scientists to experiment and test AI projects before rolling them out across the company.

Meanwhile, two of Europe’s leading banks, NatWest and Crédit Mutuel, are using the natural language processing power of IBM Watson Assistant and conversational AI to transform their customer experience and provide much-needed support for human agents by automating responses to online enquiries, many of which are simple, repetitive questions.

Making a smart choice for your AI provider
AI-powered automation clearly has the ability to significantly enhance business performance by making all types of information-centric jobs more productive, operations more efficient and client and employee experiences more effective. This is helping AI for automation gain traction. However, more than 60 percent of IT professionals in Europe cite a lack of skills/training to develop and manage trustworthy AI as an issue.

Given the growing business need to adopt AI tools, and the shortfall in available skills, it is essential that companies work with a trusted IT provider with a proven track record of AI implementations. Properly executed, AI-powered automation can help businesses shift their focus from reaction to action; it enables people to use their time more effectively to create greater value.

To ensure the best possible return on investment, an AI application needs to be scalable, flexible and built on futureproof technologies. This will help ensure the best outcomes in a business environment that is increasingly waking up to the power of AI-powered automation.

Jean-Philippe Desbiolles
Jean-Philippe Desbiolles is Global VP, Data, Cognitive & AI (Financial Services), IBM. IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider, helping clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently, and securely.