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The reality of a completely automated enterprise may still be some way off, but there are many processes and roles that can now be carried out by machines. Many IT executives and managers even agree that a substantially automated enterprise is now a realistic goal, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), a new survey shows.

We use a lot of autonomous systems in our everyday lives — when we purchase items from online platforms, download and test software, or make research inquiries.

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Here’s an apt description of what autonomous enterprises should look like: “Much like an autonomous car warns the driver about obstacles in the road, an autonomous enterprise helps business leaders avoid hidden potholes on their customer journeys, such as inefficient onboarding processes or a product offer that doesn’t fit the customer’s needs,” Don Schuerman, CTO of Pegasystems, writes in Forbes. “Responsible and well-governed AI models can identify these issues and dynamically adjust business strategies in real time. And it happens continually, optimizing hundreds, thousands or millions of customer interactions a day across all channels.”

Lately, there has been a “marked shift” toward the autonomous enterprise, according to authors of a recent survey from Digitate. Around a quarter (26%) of the survey’s 601 respondents plan to implement machine-operated tasks that require limited human input, or to fully transition to autonomous systems, within the next five years.

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Technology departments — particularly IT operations and ticket management — are the early use cases for autonomy. The survey suggests 90% of IT functions plan to implement additional automation within the next year and 58% within the next six months.

As automation proliferates, customer support, supply chain sourcing and procurement (45%), business operations (37%), and finance and accounting (36%) are the next areas in line for autonomous operations, the survey suggests.

But don’t count out the role of humans just yet. One-third (33%) of organizations use machines to assist with tasks, but still rely on human input, the Digitate survey’s authors point out. Close to another third (32%) have progressed to an “equal balance” of automation and human input.

While AI and ML are tilting the balance toward greater machine autonomy, the survey suggests only 12% of respondents are implementing automation systems that learn and adapt to changing environments, workloads, technologies, and policies, requiring little to no human input, or fully transitioning to self-healing automation with proactive resolution.

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However, 26% of respondents plan to implement machine-operated tasks that require limited human input, or to fully transition to autonomous systems, within the next five years.

It’s also important to consider how the rise of autonomous processes also means there’s a demand for a skilled workforce that can design, build, maintain, and train these systems. Businesses will also need creative leaders who can make sure these autonomous processes are focused on things that are worthwhile to the organization and its markets.

The survey makes it clear that the march to intelligent automation is not without headwinds. More than one in four IT executives (26%) feel that the main obstacle to automation in their organization is a fear that employees will leave, or the perception there will be job redundancy. This opinion is particularly strong among heads of department and VPs (41%), “underlining the tough balancing act these executives face in improving productivity while ensuring staff feel valued and perceive their jobs to be safe,” the survey’s authors surmise. In addition, IT executives face a lack of availability of the right tools and solutions (24%), as well as lack of tangible or measurable return on investment (23%).

So, despite the vision of machines and software running businesses smoothly and efficiently, automation requires people who can give its systems purpose — and remain within the guardrails of security and fairness.


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