Companies are expected to ramp up automation in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak as employers seek to cut costs and boost productivity, industry analysts say.
Some of these cost-cutting efforts will involve the use of artificial-intelligence-powered robotic software developed to replace workers by tackling repetitive tasks, such as handling routine contact-center calls and processing employee-benefits forms.
“The pandemic has redrawn the automation landscape with a pattern that is clear from previous recessions, but with a Covid twist,” said Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst at information-technology research firm Forrester Research Inc. The goal, he added, is to maintain or expand operations with fewer employees.
Forrester expects the downturn to be followed by a prolonged jobless recovery, driven by a surge in automation, according to a recent report.
“Lower-level and repeatable jobs targeted by robotic process automation will account for many displaced jobs in this economic disruption,” Mr. Le Clair said, adding that some higher-tier positions might also disappear as employers seek to “produce more at a lower cost” with more advanced AI capabilities. He pointed to positions like insurance underwriters and purchasing agents being replaced by software robots with text-analytics capabilities that can tackle forms, documents and emails.
“The focus of the next several months will be in driving out inefficiency and speeding up operations through the use of automation,” said Maureen Fleming, program vice president for intelligent process automation in IDC’s market research and advisory group.
She said the focus will be on cutting operating costs and gaining more control over systems, such as supply chains and other critical areas.
Grocer Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV—the parent company of Food Lion, Stop & Shop and Giant Food stores and the Peapod grocery delivery service—says it is accelerating development of robotic technologies because Covid-19 created an urgent need for technology to help workers clean stores and process orders.
Companies that turn to software robots during the pandemic to automate the process of parsing data, to better predict demand and avoid supply-chain disruptions, aren’t likely to return to a precrisis mode of operations, said Dan Wright, president and chief operating officer of DataRobot Inc., an enterprise AI platform company.