Enterprise automation platform Workato has released the 2022 Work Automation Index, its second annual report and analysis of top automation trends this year.

This year, the report finds an overarching theme of democratization in the automation landscape. Automation is bigger than ever, and that means it’s expanding beyond the typical IT sphere. People who aren’t developers or engineers are learning to build process automations for their own lines of business, whether that be HR, sales and marketing, customer support, or finance.

Let’s take a look at some of the big takeaways from the report.

We’re in an automation boom

As automation is becoming more accessible, its usage is exploding. More departments are automating than ever before, and the number of automations has doubled year-over-year. This comes as no surprise—automation has been booming since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2020, massive automation growth has been recorded in business intelligence (1074%), customer support (666%), and finance (659%).

With this growing accessibility, automation is no longer the sole domain of engineers and IT. More departments are automating than ever before. The majority of organizations (28%) are automating in 7 or more departments—the majority were only automating in 1 to 2 in 2020. Furthermore, 25% of all automated processes in 2022 are done by IT—a significant drop from nearly 40% in 2021.

The barrier for entry for automation is coming down, and that means not only that automation is becoming more widespread, but that automation is a skill that a wider variety of workers can develop.

HR continues to be a primary focus for automation

Since the start of the pandemic, remote work has become increasingly normalized. And that’s a good thing! Offering a remote work environment improves mental health, creates more employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and even has some benefits for employers as well.

However, when your workforce is distributed across the country (or across the globe), managing your employees’ needs isn’t the same as if they’re all working in an office together. Because of this, HR automations have continued to be a main focus of organizations across industries. 

Competition for talent and the Great Resignation have made HR departments focus heavily on employee experience. Recruiting (316%) and onboarding (256%) processes have seen the highest increase in automations within the HR department in the last year. With workforces becoming more distributed geographically, making a good first impression through the entire hiring process remains top priority. Additionally, performance and development automations have seen a 275% rise, as HR departments have responded to the need to engage and develop all employees in the face of the Great Resignation.

Finance just surpassed IT as most automated department

Coming in hot at 26% of all automations, finance has usurped IT as the most automated department. It makes sense: When you’re dealing with money, ensuring you have airtight automations that prevent human intervention (and the possibility of human error) is crucial.

Order-to-cash makes up the vast majority of automations this year, coming in at a whopping 72.5%. It’s the most important financial process for any business, yet is historically a highly manual process. Automating it makes sense if you want to reduce human error, provide a great customer experience, and ultimately grow as a business.

Record-to-report and procure-to-pay also saw significant growth, coming in at 291% and 282% growth year-over-year, respectively.

All three of these processes are highly data involved and can deliver a lot of bang for your buck when you’re trying to pinpoint which financial processes to automate.

Data offers a strategic way for IT to add value

Speaking of data, it’s worth mentioning that DataOps automations have tripled in the past year. Across all departments, it was the second most automated process after order-to-cash. This is likely due to businesses becoming increasingly data-informed and data-driven.

In last year’s report, DataOps was flagged as a trending opportunity for automation, and that trend is continuing to rise. Delivering insights from a data warehouse to other business-critical apps is an effective way for IT to add value to the business, and it seems IT organizations are catching onto that.

Automation everywhere all at once

This year, the survey collected regional data to get a sense for what the automation landscape looks like on a global scale. The results were clear: Automation is going global.

In EMEA, automations for insights and analytics grew the most, coming in at 403% year over year. Finance and IT operations were not far behind. HR automations are also a growing focus in EMEA. The amount of time between acceptance of a job offer and start date can vary widely in the region, and it’s not uncommon for that period to be several months in length. Ensuring onboarding goes smoothly in that situation is crucial.

In APJ, finance came out on top, with record-to-report coming in at 569% growth in the past year and procure-to-pay at 514%. Many of these automations were built to run through NetSuite, which is one of the most popular applications in the region.

The automation revolution

Making automation accessible for anyone, regardless of coding experience, can make businesses more agile and build a future-ready skill set for employees. In a world where everyone can automate, the relationship between IT and other departments becomes more collaborative, and IT can become a more strategic partner for the business. Carter Busse, CIO at Workato, put it perfectly: “It’s really just amazing to see that IT teams are now becoming the less dominant automation creators. I think this demonstrates that when you have the right guardrails, the right governorship, and the right tools in place it’s possible to have business users creating automation safely.”

This is an exciting time for automation. Keep your eye on the low-code/no-code automation space…it sounds like things are getting interesting.

You can read the 2022 Work Automation Index here.

Amber von Nagel
About Amber von Nagel

Amber von Nagel is a Content Strategist at Workato.