Lost productivity costs United States businesses nearly $11,000 per second—or about $335 billion per year. One root cause of that productivity drain is the time employees devote to performing routine, manual administrative processes, particularly in accounting and HR.
But there’s good news for business leaders: emerging automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies promise to relieve the burden—and the lost productivity—these admin duties create. And employees, freed from time-consuming admin responsibilities, will gain more opportunities to do their best work and become true experts in their roles.
I had the honor of addressing these topics with global leaders on a 2018 HOPE Global Forum panel, moderated by Forbes editor Loren Feldman. Fellow panelists included Dr. Mark P. Becker, president of Georgia State University; Harry Wilson, chairman of MAEVA Group; and Dennis Lockhart, former president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve.
During the panel, we discussed how AI and automation will help business leaders better understand their business operations and future workforce needs. Here are three insights I took away from the conversation.
1. Critical business functions will (finally) integrate seamlessly
One operational area where AI will have a big impact? Breaking down silos. In the data-driven workforce of the future, leaders in functions like finance and HR will share a real-time view of business performance and collaborate to benchmark performance, identify risks and address gaps in response to financial, market, workforce and other dynamics.
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Over time, as AI enables efficient and timely data gathering and data integration, business leaders will reach the point where they use data to predict outcomes—rather than react to circumstances.
2. Envisioning a highly productive workforce of experts
Automation and tools for gathering and analyzing data are already enhancing workforce productivity in organizations, large and small. Here at Sage, we have created the world’s first smart assistant for accounting, Pegg, to businesses manage everything from money to people by texting requirements through a familiar style messaging platform on their phone, tablet, or laptop. In the finance industry, leading banks are using AI applications for regulatory and compliance tasks. As organizations continue to expand their use of AI and become increasingly more data-driven, their workers will be in a position to help guide the business.
AI will place data insights—from finance, HR, inventory, sales, and marketing, among others—into employees’ hands, who can then make more informed business and staffing recommendations. It’s a world where accountants and finance directors can advise CFOs and CEOs—and where top executives not only welcome but expect their strategic input.
The benefits don’t end there. By freeing their teams from routine administrative duties, like generating and processing invoices, businesses stand to unlock more than $600 billion in lost productivity, according to a recent survey commissioned by Sage. But many organizations, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, have a lot of work to do before they can realize the productivity benefits of automation and AI. Our research found that only 30 percent of SMEs have fully digitalized their accounting processes, and nearly half (47 percent) report they have no software solution at all.
3. Helping companies build more diverse workforces
The emergence of AI shouldn’t just excite business leaders because of the admin work that it will replace. It will also assist, helping employees from the corner office to the newest hire make smarter decisions. One area where this assistive form of AI, or “augmented intelligence,” will be visible is workforce management.
Businesses will be able to surface and filter demographic, job performance and other data to more equitably address pay gaps, determine promotions and identify recruitment and development opportunities. It’s critical that businesses analyze their own workforce data to understand their employees and to develop strategies to boost their productivity and engagement.
Data-driven workforce management is a powerful dynamic that will shape the future workforce in positive ways. For one, it will help to reduce the influence of human bias that often stands in the way of businesses making smart hiring decisions and giving valued employees opportunities to grow.
While it will take years for AI and automation to transform the workforce in the ways described above, business leaders must understand that these are not trends of tomorrow—they’re unfolding now. Business leaders must embrace technologies like AI that can help them understand their business operations and workforce—and make smarter decisions about both.