1. Business
  2. Politics and policy
September 19, 2019updated 03 Nov 2021 12:57pm

UK must invest in automation to “thrive in the fourth industrial revolution”

By Ellen Daniel

The UK could struggle to compete with other economies if it does not invest more in robotics and automation.

This is according to MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, who have warned that other G7 economies are better prepared for automation in the workplace, known as the “fourth industrial revolution”.

MPs believe that a lack of adoption and investment could put jobs and prosperity at risk. The report warns that the UK has “missed its chance to lead on developing industrial automation” and if it does not try to catch up, “businesses, investment and jobs will move overseas”.

According to research conducted in 2018 by Consultancy.uk, there are currently 71 industrial robots installed per 10,000 workers in UK, falling behind 21 other countries with the UK representing just 0.6% of industrial robotics shipments in 2017.

Although the rise of automation in the workplace has often been associated with human job loss, with 58% of businesses believing that it is public nervousness around technology that is holding them back from innovating, it may in fact be a lack of investment in this technology that has a negative impact on jobs.

According to James Dening, Vice President, Automation Anywhere, there is clear evidence to suggest that investing in automation is not only beneficial to workers, but to businesses as a whole:

“The business case for adopting automation technologies is clear. A study by Goldsmiths, University of London, commissioned by Automation Anywhere shows that organisations augmented by Robotic Process Augmentation (RPA) or AI achieve 28% higher overall performance and have a 31% better financial performance.

 “Furthermore, RPA actually makes work more humanOrganisations augmented by software automation are 33% more likely to be ‘human friendly’ workplaces, and 78% of employees said that RPA allows them to focus on the more creative and strategic parts of their jobs. In fact, the study shows that it’s only by investing in people alongside automation, that the maximum value can be derived from automation technologies.”

Ravi Krishnamoorthi, Managing Director & Head of Private Sector at Fujitsu UK & Ireland believes that a lack of government investment may be holding businesses back:

“Emerging technologies are fundamentally changing the way we live and so the Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee is absolutely right in calling on the government to encourage investment in new tech. Although more and more businesses are looking to embed automation, and we are a seeing a number of new and exciting innovations stem from its use, many are still holding back.

“If we’re to see businesses fully embrace emerging technologies, they need to achieve the right balance between respecting the concerns of the public and the need to plan radically for the future. To see real change, changes need to happen beyond taxes and investing in technology. The government needs to support organisations in educating all about the positive outcomes of technology for employees, citizens and consumers. Only when this happens will public perceptions strengthen and the full potential of technology be unlocked.”

To remedy this, the BEIS committee recommends that the government develops a “UK Robot and AI Strategy”, so that moving forward “we have a new chance to lead and succeed is with service robotics and in AI, but only if we are supporting British businesses and researchers to innovate”.

It has recommended that more funding should be allocated to businesses that are developing and implementing automation, and also to academia.

Paul Smith, EVP and GM UK at Salesforce believes that it is essential that the UK maximise the benefits of automation now:

“This report is an important and timely contribution as the UK enters a critical phase of digital transformation. The economy is changing as new technologies emerge. To thrive in the fourth industrial revolution, UK businesses must maximise the benefits of automation to support business growth. Employees within British businesses – and particularly SMEs – spend too much time performing tasks that can be easily automated. Embracing technologies like AI and machine learning into the workplace means employees can focus their time and expertise on closing sales, strengthening client relationships or planning for the future.”

Read More: Automation embraced as UK business saviour as confidence remains below average.