Automation has come a long way. In the past, when we thought of automation we likely thought of robots putting cars together in manufacturing assembly lines. Today, automation is far more prevalent than we could have imagined, is more beneficial than we expected, and is advancing in areas we did not anticipate, particularly in the corporate office environment.

According to a study titled “WorkMarket 2020 In(Sight) Report: What AI & Automation Really Mean For Work,” 53 percent of responding employees believe they could save up to 2 hours a day by automating tasks; 78 percent of business leader respondents believe they could save up to 3 hours a day by automating tasks.

Add up those hours, and we’re looking at 100 hours saved each month, per person—totaling a whopping 1,200 hours each year. Apply that to a U.S. workforce of about 160 million, and companies are losing well more than $1 trillion annually by holding off on automation.

Beyond IT

When we think of automation in the office, we tend to think of its use in IT. Forward-thinking IT departments have already automated such things as data backups; system, application and configuration management; storage provisioning; and even threat responses. That’s all great stuff.

What about accounting? A wide range of accounting software products let you automate increasingly mundane tasks such as tracking expenses, invoicing customers, recording payments and reconciling transactions.

Some companies are reinventing their business processes with robotic process automation (RPA). Using RPA, a series of software bots collect and analyze information, manipulate data, then trigger responses that communicate with other digital processes. Financial institutions were among the earliest adopters of RPA, as it can dramatically reduce human error while reducing headcount. According to research firm Gartner, Inc., RPA is the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, expected to reach $1.3 billion in revenue this year.

There is, of course, customer relationship management (CRM) software. Did you know you can use CRM as an automation platform for marketing and social media outreach?

For example, your CRM platform can help generate customer testimonials. Identify satisfied customers, then have the system send an automated email requesting a testimonial — including a form that can, in turn, be automatically processed. Have the system automatically send a follow-up email if the customer does not respond within a certain time frame. Similar automation is being used at corporate service desks and for workflow that supports IT equipment procurement.

Human resources and security

Human resources (HR), with its inherent focus on the human side of the company, may seem the least likely candidate for automation. Yet, HR professionals are seeing some of the greatest benefits.

Consider the hiring process. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it takes about 42 days to fill an open position. For each opening the HR team will get more than 250 resumes. Imagine the time and money HR professionals can save with resume-screening tools, for example, which can sift through thousands of resumes in just a few minutes.

Even the interview process is being automated. My son was recently interviewing for a job and was instructed to complete an automated, recorded, video interview with a chatbot, instead of heading into the office for an in-person interview with a real person.

He liked the experience. It was less pressure overall, and he could complete the interview at any time of day, at his convenience. On the other side, the HR team members did not have to take time out of their day to conduct an in-person interview, and could view the video at their convenience. A proverbial win-win.

Automation is not just for factories any more. Law firms are automating the due diligence process; medical offices are automating the check-in process. And, as systems are able to gather more data, automation will become necessary to save time and money, and eliminate the increasing possibility of human error.