Automation by the numbers: 11 stats to know

Automation's reach extends beyond any single business function or technology. Let’s dig into 11 statistics (and then some) that reflect the outsized influence of automation
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Automation pervades most other contemporary IT trends. Cloud and cloud-native? You’re talking about automation.  Security and DevSecOps? Again, you’re talking about automation. Talent and culture? Yep, you’re still talking about automation.

IT is both in the midst of its own automation transformation and also an indispensable catalyst of organization-wide automation strategies. It’s actually difficult to exaggerate the role that automation is playing in businesses and industries of all kinds today. (The “automate all the things” meme has a kernel of truth to it.)

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Automation’s reach extends beyond any single industry, business function, job role, or technology. Let’s dig into 11 statistics (and then some) that reflect the outsized influence of automation.

11 statistics on the state of automation

60 percent: Automation-related fears about job security are very real. In a PwC survey of 32,500 workers worldwide, roughly six out of every 10 (61 percent) of respondents said they’re worried that automation (of all types) is putting many jobs at risk in the future.

[ Also read: Automation vs. IT jobs: 3 ways leaders can address layoff fears. ]

X = Y: Bet you didn’t think we’d break out the algebra so soon, but here we are: X = Y, where X represents “time spent on current tasks at work by humans” and Y represents “time spent on current tasks at work” by machines. Those numbers will be more or less equal in 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. Today, people still spend more time on those same tasks than machines.

The organization’s Future of Jobs report notes that this balance won’t be distributed evenly, however, and work that requires critical thinking and problem-solving will still favor humans: “Algorithms and machines will be primarily focused on the tasks of information and data processing and retrieval, administrative tasks, and some aspects of traditional manual labor. The tasks where humans are expected to retain their comparative advantage include managing, advising, decision-making, reasoning, communicating, and interacting.”

97 million vs. 85 million: The same World Economic Forum report estimates that 85 million jobs will be displaced as a result of that shift in the division of work, with more of it moving to machines. That said, the report also predicts the creation of around 97 million new roles as a result of the same shift toward automation.

77 percent: Terms like reskilling and upskilling may sound buzzwordy, but the practices they represent are serious: The capabilities required for many of those new roles likely don’t exist today. The PwC survey found that most people are willing to learn and then some: 77 percent of respondents said they’re “ready to learn new skills or completely retrain,” and 40 percent of people reported “successfully improving their digital skills” during the pandemic.

1/4: While machine learning (ML) and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) underpin a lot of IT automation discussion, it’s still relatively early days for this (big) category. Approximately one-quarter of respondents in O’Reilly’s AI Adoption in the Enterprise 2021 report indicated “mature” AI initiatives, defined in this context as having revenue-generating AI in production. That rate basically remains unchanged compared with O’Reilly’s 2020 report. O’Reilly received three times the number of responses with the same amount of promotion, something the firm attributes to growing interest in AI overall.

[ Related read: Why automation progress stalls: 3 hidden culture challenges. ]

35 percent: That’s the percentage of organizations in the O’Reilly report that are actively evaluating AI, meaning they’re running a trial or proof of concept. Another 26 percent said they’re “considering” AI but haven’t started any formal work. Just 13 percent said they’re not using AI now and aren’t considering doing so in the foreseeable future.

1: The #1 challenge for these organizations is hiring: There aren’t enough people with skills in AI, machine learning, and data science. You may think you’ve heard that line before, but a lack of AI skills only took over the top spot this year, unseating culture challenges (which dropped to number four, suggesting that people are starting to get used to the idea of increasing automation).

“That shortage has been predicted for several years; we’re finally seeing it,” writes report author Mike Loukides, VP of content strategy at O’Reilly Media.

58 percent: The pandemic appears to have sped up automation initiatives rather than slow them down: A 2020 global executive survey conducted by Deloitte found a 58 percent increase in intelligent automation initiatives underway compared with the previous year.

73 percent: That meant that nearly three out of four execs (73 percent) said they had an intelligent automation initiative in Deloitte’s 2020 survey.

Intelligent automation – what’s that? Definitions of intelligent automation vary, but the term usually refers to a combination of technologies, including but not limited to robotic process automation (RPA), low-code or no-code tools, and AI technologies. The “intelligent” part usually reflects that technologies like RPA can’t learn on their own like a machine learning algorithm, for example.

88 percent: IT automation isn’t just about AI and ML – it also includes the extensive, expanding roles that automation plays in modern environments. Think in terms of infrastructure as code, configuration management, security automation, container orchestration, and more. Kubernetes is now everyday IT jargon for that very reason. In Red Hat's 2021 State of Kubernetes Security report, 88 percent of the IT pros surveyed said their organizations are using Kubernetes, with 74 percent using it in production.

74 percent: The State of Kubernetes Security report also found that nearly three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) have adopted DevSecOps. A full 25 percent of organizations said their DevSecOps implementation is in an advanced stage that integrates and automates security throughout their software pipeline.

[ Want to learn more about building and deploying Kubernetes Operators? Get the free O'Reilly eBooks: Kubernetes Operators: Automating the Container Orchestration Platform and  Kubernetes patterns for designing cloud-native apps. ]

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.

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