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Opinion

The need for automation clear as productivity stalls

  • David Biden
  • Nov 18, 2019

Last week, the ONS released several reports around the UK workforce’s productivity, wages, working hours and employment. There were several headline stats which were seized on by the media, such as the fact that unemployment has increased and wage growth has slowed. However, one stat that caught the eye of our CEO David Biden was that productivity over the last quarter was frozen at 0%. Sadly, this is actually a slight improvement on Q2 of 2019, when productivity contracted. When 0% is an improvement there are certainly issues at hand for your productivity.

David shares some thoughts below:

These latest stats from ONS show that we’re working more hours, but becoming no more productive per hour. In fact, latest productivity growth is exactly 0%, and the UK is still struggling to throw off the shackles of the 2008 financial crisis. The UK economy may have avoided a technical recession in the third quarter of the year, but annual growth sank to its lowest rate since 2010. Employment vacancies have seen their biggest annual fall since late 2009, but remain high by historical standards.

ONS productivity results
ONS productivity results

Political uncertainty is still having a massive effect on businesses, with both Brexit and a general election looming.  I think FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry put it simply, and well, when he stated the importance of SMEs being given more tools to cope during this tough time:

“Months of uncertainty have done nothing to help small businesses which have been struggling under the weight of rising costs, soaring business rates and continued difficulties in the economy,” he said. “It’s critical that the next Government gives the economy a much-needed shot in the arm by investing in new infrastructure such as broadband and 5G networks.”

I’d add to that mix of new infrastructure Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Overall, we’re seeing stifled investment in new technology in the wider industry: businesses want to do more with less, but it’s not always obvious where to direct that technology investment. Businesses are understandably reluctant to take on projects which are a big economic and time investment at this moment in time.

However, we are also seeing increased interest in RPA because it’s comparatively quick and inexpensive to implement. In terms of productivity, RPA could very well be a quick win that allows organisations to maintain momentum despite uncertain economic conditions.

In these uncertain times, companies need to be making smart investments; I think we may well see a boom in the RPA market as the economic picture begins to get a little clearer in early 2020.

Read more of our views on recent news:

The BEIS report - It's true we need more robots but that's just the first step Why we think the NHS should embrace Investment in Artificial Intelligence

David Biden

David has trained and mentored many individuals and believes the best leaders are great teachers.