In the long run, the march of automation across the enterprise is inexorable. While this trend is consistent with earlier recessions and recoveries, modern intelligent automation technologies increasingly encroach on cognitive areas of human labour and interaction.
Many of these, such as machine learning, are "fuzzy" and can inherit biases in training data or challenge the superiority of humans in the human-machine collaboration equation, according to the report titled "The COVID-19 Crisis Will Accelerate Enterprise Automation Plans".
"Workers and leaders will require new skills, behaviours and mindsets. The specter of a jobless recovery is real, and the human impact of the crisis on the workforce will continue into recovery," said Leslie Joseph, Principal Analyst with Forrester.
"Avoid the temptation to automate roughshod; instead, approach automation with empathy and trust and invest in increasing your firm's Robotics Quotient," he added.
Automation is a hedge against white swans. Organisations often make tradeoffs favoring short-term outcomes over long-term resilience.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, CEOs will demand that their business leaders strategically focus on risk mitigation and recovery from global "white swan" events.
Digital labour does not fall ill and can perform repeatable tasks from anywhere with equal efficiency.
In some circumstances, humans are riskier than robots; automobile manufacturing plants are shutting down not because of issues with robotic manufacturing lines but out of concern for the humans who work alongside them.
"However, firms will struggle with technical, structural, cultural, and business process change as they retool to make broader use of a digital workforce," the report added.
"Companies and leaders will need to retool the way they bring technology, culture, and organizational design to support the long-term management of an automation-fueled, adaptive workforce.
As the world emerges from the grip of the pandemic, business leaders in sectors including manufacturing and retail will look to bring their supply chains closer to key markets.
"This will cause a move away from just-in-time supply and toward greater global diversification and technology-enabled demand responsiveness using big data, AI, and cloud technologies," according to the report.
This crisis is already forcing CEOs to expand the canvas of business risk to include unforeseen global events such as COVID-19. After the storm, risk and resiliency will emerge as key.
"The coronavirus crisis is already a defining event for business and society. Most firms currently have survival and sustenance on their mind. However, as the crisis recedes, expect the pattern of investments along the recovery path to follow past trends," Joseph noted.
Business and technology leaders will continue to invest in emerging intelligent automation technologies to increase the resiliency and adaptiveness of the business, he added.