By Project Nation Guest Author, Michael Balarezo, Media.Monks (Originally Published in SoDA 2022: Agency Mid-Year Report)
By now, you’ve seen it all over the internet: three-by-three grids of surreal illustrations drawn by DALL-E, a program developed by OpenAI that translates lines of text into a series of original images. In addition to being a fun diversion and social media fodder, DALL-E’s impressive ability to parse text and create original works of art anticipates an exciting future in which automation and AI can help anyone with an idea bring it to life.
At the same time, it might have some in our industry quaking in their boots. In its Agency Workforce 2023 report, Forrester predicts 11% of jobs at large agencies will be lost to automation next year. While it may help the big players pare down, automation has the potential to help smaller digital agencies scale up their ambition. That’s what I find so exciting about automation: for most people in our industry, it’s a tool that will help make jobs better, just like other digital tools that were once novel but are taken for granted today.
So no, we don’t need to bow down to our robot overlords. But when facing an increasingly automated future, today’s agency talent must become accustomed to the role that automation will play in their work and on their teams. Leadership has a responsibility to support and upskill their teams in this respect.
A People-Led Approach Makes Automation’s Value Clear
Realizing the need to augment our workforce, we decided the best way to introduce automation to our people was to get them directly involved. Being people-ed and solving together are in our DNA, and this shaped our Citizen Automation initiative, which encourages everyone across the team to identify aspects of their work they can automate. This approach aims to empower our people to transform workflows as they see fit, viewing automation as a tool instead of a competitor.
Think of the tedious work that eats up your day, whether it’s a boring task or a repetitive one: monthly financial reports, preparing a dozen different campaign updates for a client or even generating a thousand pieces of creative for a brand. Streamlining these functions through automation means winning back time to pursue more meaningful activities—whether that means having more time with family, or simply focusing on other areas of your work that you love.
But automation doesn’t need to focus just on eliminating repetitive tasks; it can be a muse for innovation. Encouraging everyone to brainstorm ideas that are most likely to impact their workflow also helps create a culture of experimentation and learning by doing. Essentially, you’re able to experiment and incubate ideas simultaneously on a large scale and ultimately surface up solutions that impact wider areas of the business. For example, our Technical Solutions Engineering team found a way to improve communication efficiency, cutting about two hours’ worth of work out of the week, by automating incoming service requests. The same recipe can be used for similar cases, multiplying the automation’s potential.
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When It Comes to New Tools, Accessibility Drives Adoption
Of course, not everyone is a software engineer or data scientist; dealing with automation can seem intimidating or difficult for some, even if they’re part of a digitally mature team and culture. For automation initiatives to be successful across disciplines and varying levels of tech literacy, it’s important to design with accessibility in mind. Remember: automation is about making things easier, not more difficult.
Lean on your experts who can offer support. Along with the Technical Solutions Engineering team, Product, Engineering, and newly formed Automation teams now plug into internal needs to help people automate new solutions. We’ve also implemented a process in which those who are proficient in automation can become certified citizen developers and lend support. Inspiration goes a long way in helping teams realize the potential of automation, too. We built an automation portal where people can not only seek assistance in building new solutions but can also see what innovations their colleagues have come up with.
Spotlighting significant contributions (and the people behind them) helps get the wheels turning in people’s minds. It’s also the right thing to do, because automation impacts not only individual users, but also the business as a whole.
Happier (Not Just More Efficient) Teams
Automation is an incredible tool that will help agencies scale up their ambition and deliver stronger work. At the same time, it’s understandable why many may feel uneasy about it initially: it can seem confusing, and statistics about shrinking labor forces can scare. But both those concerns also present an imperative for why it’s so necessary that teams upskill. Those who have embraced automation will be better equipped for the future of our industry.
Leadership plays an important role in supporting their teams and making automation’s adoption more palatable. Allowing everyone the opportunity to shape automation’s role in their day-to-day not only helps assuage the concerns above. It also leads to happier teams: who wouldn’t want to automate away repetitive tasks that unnecessarily take up their time? Automation may supercharge the business, but when you’ve demonstrated its practical value on an individual level, it’s hard to rebuff the trend.
About the Author
Michael Balarezo is an entrepreneur and software engineer who is passionate about building things that solve unique needs, with the understanding that both people and tech are required to accelerate progress. He is currently the Global VP of Enterprise Automation at Media.Monks, where he leads the Technical Solutions Engineering, Product & Engineering, and Automation teams to enable advertisers to realize new potential and scale.
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