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What is the state of automation in 2020?

Catalytic surveyed 600 leaders of best-in-class organizations on their digital transformations. Here's what we found about the state of automation in 2020.

According to McKinsey, 57% of companies have begun to pilot automation technologies, indicating a broader understanding that automation has moved from a nice-to-have to an absolute requirement in order to stay competitive. 

But so often companies find themselves unsure of where to go after the pilot program, how to scale these automations more broadly, who should “own” automation planning, and how to reimagine roles and responsibilities to accommodate them.

To find out more about the structure, strategy, and progress of best-in-class companies' automation programs, Catalytic conducted a cross-industry survey of 600 enterprise C-suite leaders, department directors and managers, including dedicated automation leaders. The findings help us better understand the state of digital transformation in 2020 and how organizations can best implement it.

Here are a few insights from "The Real State of Automation Progress" report, which can be accessed in full here.


Automation familiarity increases as you ascend the corporate ladder

Whether it’s the classic concern of “robots will take my job,” or feeling wary of the upfront investment and unknown ROI as a decision-maker, we often fear what we don’t understand. So a deep knowledge of the “what,” the “how,” and the “why” is a must.

Being a part of these conversations, however, is dependent on factors like organization size and position within a company. For example, we found that 53% of those at the managerial level of a company with 250-1,000 employees are plugged into automation conversations, compared to only 34% at a company with 50,000-plus.

And familiarity increases as you ascend the corporate ladder as well. Among those that are “extremely familiar” with automation, 71% are C-suite, 59% VPs/directors, and 48% managers.

Moreover, 93% of employees think automation will make their jobs easier.

In short, awareness of automation needs to grow across the board, and the greater the effort to communicate value to the frontlines, the easier the buy-in and implementation will be.


Only 9% of those surveyed believed their automation programs were at a “Pro” level

Scaling remains one of the most common obstacles to a successful automation program. 

Building initial automations to certain processes can be difficult to translate to an entire department, much less to an entire company. This can be driven by anything from IT bottlenecks, reliance on legacy technology, or budget restrictions.

The report finds that although 79% of automation leaders find their programs at the intermediate level (pilots underway), or advanced (beginning to scale), only 9% of those surveyed believed their programs were at a “Pro,” level—“automation solutions are optimally deployed and configured organization-wide, working seamlessly with humans to drive peak value.”

Scaling successfully can be influenced by how the implementation is managed, the report finds. For example, when automation efforts are centralized to C-suite and IT, only 28% of respondents said that ROI was higher than expected, versus 44% whose efforts are owned by other departments as well.

Though 69% of automation initiatives have delivered a higher ROI than expected, a distributed approach may lead to better outcomes by mitigating IT bottlenecks and improving confidence across departments, in addition to enabling a more efficient and organic transformation process. 


Departments outside of IT don't feel equipped for automation

One of the key differentiators between companies that deliver sophisticated automated processes and those struggling to get past the starting line is how they align their people across departments. 

When leadership, department heads, and employees all understand the key obstacles standing in their way, and agree on a solution to move forward, breaking down the obstacles to digital transformation is possible, and a move toward digital maturity becomes much easier. 

Employees in general find themselves extremely skilled (32%) or somewhat skilled (55%) at automation, but an even more vital department tasked with taking the lead on automation efforts is IT. 

In fact, IT teams report being very confident their department has the expertise to achieve the company’s automation goals (96%), with others being less so—HR (27%), procurement (24%), and operations (22%), to name a few.

Educating teams company-wide with your automation strategy plans and education, you’ll be able to lessen the burden on the IT department to implement, and better empower the less confident teams, who know the inefficiencies in their processes better than anyone.


Automation can assist employees with 40% of their workload

Approximately 40% of an employee's work can be automated, according to our findings, which would free teams from the manual, error-prone, and tedious work that drags them down, and enable them to focus on higher-value and creative work. 

Regardless of your role and department, imagine minimizing the day-to-day drudgery of entering data, managing multiple systems, and nonstop email touchpoints, by essentially placing them on auto-pilot. 

Here are the seven departments that have seen the most impressive outcomes as a result of automation and digital transformation initiatives, according to the report.

  • Customer service 
  • Operations
  • IT
  • Procurement
  • Marketing
  • Accounting/Finance
  • HR




Read the full report for a deeper understanding of the state of automation in 2020, along with tips on how to build a successful action plan that you cam implement immediately.

Read the Catalytic report

Written by Catalytic