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We have been looking ahead to 2025 to understand the potential implications of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and digital systems for Scotland’s businesses and jobs.

Robot arm holding a ball and a human arm holding a ball
Image © The University of Edinburgh

Automation is grabbing a lot of attention just now. But how is it likely to impact on businesses, workplaces and Scotland’s economy over the next decade? What new technologies can we expect? Where might disruption take place? And what might this mean for jobs?

Ewan Mearns, strategy partner at Scottish Enterprise, explains how automation may affect your business.

A silent revolution enabled by data

Just as IT fundamentally changed the workplace during the 1980s/90s, a silent revolution is now underway that will transform the productivity and capabilities of Scotland’s businesses. Automation technologies can help companies significantly boost the speed, accuracy and safety of business processes. The ‘fourth industrial revolution’ has arrived.

This new revolution is being enabled by data - a digital revolution driven by advancements in computing and robotics. For example:

  • RBS is already trialling Assist, a chatbot supporting customer service staff with routine small business enquiries. This frees up staff time to focus on higher value-adding tasks such as analysing customer data and addressing more complex enquiries.
  • In construction, trials that use 3D printers to make components and buildings, robots to lay bricks, drones for visual inspection and exoskeletons to lift and manoeuvre heavy objects are all currently underway.
  • Data is driving stronger inter-connectedness across the food supply chain. Vertical indoor farms provide controlled environments to produce high-value crops using LED lighting. Food manufacturers are automating production and using data from suppliers to improve food quality and enable mass customisation.

Automation and sector impacts

As part of our Future Focus programme, we carried out research and spoke to technology experts to explore the opportunities, challenges and potential disruptions posed by automation over the period to 2025. We focused on possible implications for three sectors – construction, the food supply chain (from farm to fork) and financial and business services.

Download the automation research report (PDF, 685kB)

We’re helping companies to grasp new opportunities and increase their investment in automation technologies. We’re also focusing on unlocking Scotland’s comparative strengths in fast-growing areas including fintech, subsea and data.

Automation, jobs and workplaces

With data and technology costs falling quickly, automation promises to change the face of many workplaces. But will robots really ‘steal all our jobs’? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. 

It’s true that jobs involving a narrow range of easily-automated tasks will change significantly or even disappear over the next few years. Any routine, predictable and hazardous tasks are prime candidates for being automated. 

But given the breadth of many jobs, the big prize from automation will be to increase employee productivity and create higher quality jobs. From the shopfloor to the boardroom, we’ll all need to adapt to working alongside machines, automating more routine tasks and releasing our time to add greater value. Our roles will evolve to focus on the tasks best done by humans, including providing empathy, stimulating creativity and strengthening relationships. Companies therefore need to invest in their people alongside investing in new technologies.

Over time, we’ll also see automation helping to create new businesses, products and jobs right across the economy, and these new opportunities will help substitute for the jobs that do become obsolete.

If you would like support to invest in automation solutions for your business, we would love to help.

Get in touch