Automation Part 3: A New Age Of Work

Automation Part 3: A New Age Of Work

In this final part of Silicon UK’s look at automation, we consider what the future holds for all enterprises. What should your business’s automation roadmap look like?

There is little doubt that automation will have a profound and lasting impact on many businesses. According to research commissioned by Expleo, 39% of employed adults agreed that technology enables them to work faster. In comparison, nearly a third (32%) stated that “greater access to information” has improved their working lives.

Automation has often been portrayed in a negative light with mass job losses often cited as the primary result of more automation. However, as the Future That Works, McKinsey Global Institute explains, automation is already here: “Most people already work alongside automation, and possibly don’t even notice. For call centre operators, automatic processes currently work behind the scenes to pre-sort calls and remove some of the administrative burdens. Around half of all tasks performed in work today could be automated by adapting currently available technologies.”

As the UK is a services-based economy, automating many of the roles within companies providing services will take place. “British workers are the most concerned about an automated future by quite a considerable margin, with 40% saying they believe their role will be automated in the future and 27% predicting it will happen in the next five years,” concluded ADP “The two sectors with the highest number of respondents who believe their jobs will be automated (45% and 39%).”

How businesses are structured and operate in the future will be very different than today. Speaking to Silicon UK, Alain Goudey, chief digital officer, Neoma Business School said:
“Future of organizations consists of transforming companies into a platform where future colleagues can be algorithms and robots, but also inside or outside the company! This transformation is leading to the need for new skills, both hard technical ones but also soft ones: Understanding techs, solving complex problems but also developing empathy, curiosity, creativity and collaboration are strong needs for today and, tomorrow.”

The freeing of the human workforce from repetitive task better suited to machines is a clear component your business will have on its automation roadmap. As automated systems become more sophisticated and, in some cases, more autonomous, staff can shift their skills and focus to strategic inputs they are intrinsically suited to perform.

Helping hands

How automated systems are integrated into a business will be manifold.
Angela Ashenden, principal analyst, workplace transformation at CCS Insight told Silicon UK: “Bots are one of the most interesting areas of automation in the next few years. We see this being adopted widely in roles that have lots of transactional tasks, such as recruitment, accounts or IT administration. We predicted last year that by 2025, a fifth of employees would use worker bots or automated digital workers in these types of roles. So rather than replacing people’s jobs, they will be a natural extension of the employee’s role, no different to the way a business application is part of their workflow today.”

Angela Ashenden, principal analyst, workplace transformation at CCS Insight.
Angela Ashenden, Principal Analyst, Workplace Transformation, CCS Insight.

The questions facing businesses are not whether automation can aid their businesses, but what kind of automation to choose. Shivani Pankhania, head of business analysis and RPA, Expleo explains: “As consumers come to expect businesses to be more and more agile (if the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we’re intrinsically reliant on technology), there will be a renewed sense of responsibility placed on the shoulders of CIO and CTOs, as industries scramble to put automation at the heart of their operations.”

Pankhania concluded: “Also, as the shift is made to automation first, a key area that should not be overlooked is the change in culture. CIO and CTOs will need to look at upskilling employees with new technologies as well as introducing a mindset shift to more agile ways of working. Those that can bring their employees on the journey with them, to fail-fast mindsets that foster innovation and growth, will be the ones that succeed.”

In addition, Brian Jones, Chairman of Bloor Research International, believes more outward thinking is the key to successfully implementing an automation strategy: “More than ever CIOs and CTOs (or whatever they will be called by 2030) will need to be genuine externally focused business leaders, with a strong appreciation of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the businesses in which they operate. They will have to make creative and well-informed outside-in decisions on technology/automation selection to nullify threats and create opportunities and, will have to adopt agile models for delivery and resource management that will allow them to pivot quickly. Mutability – being able to thrive in a constant state of re-invention, will be a core attribute of the best. All of this is desirable right now – it will be essential by 2030.”

Charles Towers-Clark, Global Chairman of international IoT provider Pod Group
Charles Towers-Clark, Global Chairman of international IoT provider Pod Group.

Charles Towers-Clark, Global Chairman of international IoT provider Pod Group, author of The WEIRD CEO: How to lead in a world dominated by Artificial Intelligence also said to Silicon UK: “While CTOs need to make sure the technical lights stay on, and CIOs need to ensure that IoT, Big Data and AI all feed into a larger (automation) strategy, the job of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is the one to watch for value creation. The CDO is tasked with finding the opportunities within the CIO’s strategy. The ability to find and commercialize digital opportunities will contribute hugely to the growth of digital companies over the next ten years.”

Robot wars

Moving towards some form of automation within your business must be approached carefully. As Capita point out, your company has several preconceived ideas as automation that must be explained and mitigated: “Despite many people already operating alongside automated processes in their roles, there are still strong preconceptions about automation, often driven by negative public debate and media stories about the potential future impact of AI and automation. The prevalence of these ‘automation myths’ and the idea that ‘robots are stealing our jobs’ has led to defensiveness over current roles and exacerbated fears around the threat of future job losses.”

The potential adversarial nature of automation must be addressed. Automated systems will expand across all businesses and market sectors. As PwC concludes, framing the argument for automated systems will ensure workforces see the value to them: “Automation will not only alter the types of jobs available but their number and perceived value. By replacing workers doing routine, methodical tasks, machines can amplify the comparative advantage of those workers with problem‐solving, leadership, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), empathy and creativity skills.”

The automation roadmap your business can follow must be defined now. The range of automated services available and, in development, will rapidly expand over the next few years. Developing an automation policy today and, placing this within the medium to long term strategic planning for your company will ensure you make the most of what automation has to offer and how this can transform the productivity and skills of your workforce.

Silicon in Focus

Euan Davis, European Lead for Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work.

Euan Davis, European Lead for Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work.
Euan Davis, European Lead for Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work.

What could work look like in 2030? How will automation and robotics change how we all work? And how will businesses organize their workforces?

Seemingly every day, an academic, researcher or technology leader suggests that in a world of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), workers will increasingly be surplus to what businesses need.

The concerns are understandable. AI is becoming “real” at an astonishing pace and finding its way into more aspects of work, rest and play. It is now being used to read X-rays and MRIs, it is at the heart of stock trading, it drives our chats with Siri or Alexa. Soon, AI will be found in every job, profession, and industry around the world.

Our view is that in the next ten years, work will change and many types of jobs will disappear. However, people have a lot more going for them than the commentary often credits – and machines need us just as much as we may come to rely upon them. Human ingenuity is not to be underestimated and technology will help create new opportunities to develop new products, services and ways of working.

We believe that about 12% of jobs will be automated away over the coming 10 to 15 years. This equates to around 19 million jobs in the United States alone. However, what is often overlooked in examining the big picture of employment levels is the growth of new jobs. We believe that there will be almost 21 million new jobs, about 13% of the current US labour force, directly created as a result of the growth of the latest technology. In other words, automation and robotics will create just as many jobs as they displace, if not more.

As algorithms take over tasks (financial services, for instance), what does the automation roadmap look like for many businesses?

Banks embarking on their automation journey would need to move from a banking-as-a-product model to a banking-as-a-lifestyle approach, which offers end-to-end customer experiences instead of capital.

The same goes for all other businesses at the start of a potential roadmap – these companies must revamp their IT architectures and operations to enable this transition, meaning the migration of systems to the cloud. This, in turn, will drive the modernization of apps and ultimately can lead to the automation of the IT system.

Companies have often initiated IT automation with a standalone IT modernization-led approach, which focuses on cost savings and process efficiency improvements. However, IT automation can achieve its full potential only when the approach is designed and enabled within a business context, with tight causality between IT automation and business outcomes.

Will some sectors be more affected by automation and robotics than others?

Automation and robotics have the potential to alter and improve a large number of sectors. The most obvious might be manufacturing, not solely on the production side but, in helping to create more connected and personalized products and experiences for customers through machine learning technologies.

However, automation does not end with physical machines, and the way AI-based technology can change processes and automate them will affect any number of sectors. For example, banking and financial services, where nearly every related activity is being re-imagined by start-ups using technology. The traditional players have no option but to move beyond their conventional transactional relationship with customers and, embrace a new standard of providing highly personalized and integrated services.

This impact will be seen elsewhere – insurance, retail, food, healthcare – but the greatest potential effects of these technologies will be the invisible ones, working behind the scenes and saving human workers valuable time.

What changes will CIOs and CTOs see to their jobs and their responsibilities as automation expands?

CIOs and CTOs will need to manage a mix of people, AI systems, algorithms and process automation tools. Above all, fairness must be prioritized. As automation expands, new methods need to be developed to troubleshoot, judge and redress employee grievances so people perceive fairness in the workplace.

For example, how do you delegate roles between robots and humans in a shared business process? Or what happens when a particular process goes on the blink or falls over and is not completed properly—and a robot is involved?

CIOs and CTOs will need new managerial skills (or people by their side) such as process automation specialists that discover the optimal mix of tasks between software and people and, can help make the judgment calls that are better left to people. We see new skills and roles for automation support, automation metrics, and new tools to manage process outcomes.

This change works up the chain as well: leaders across the firm will increasingly look to CIOs and CTOs to help them use cognitive systems, algorithms and robots to direct work. When gut instinct has been used previously by management, a more evidence-based approach is now applied to design and implement new ways to manage staff and projects, and CIOs and CTOs will play a key role.

For tech companies, is automation the conclusion of their digitization?

For tech companies, for all companies, nothing should ever be labelled “the conclusion.” Evolution is constant, and processes can always be re-examined and refined. Automation relies on the significant transformation of business operations, but it will continue to change, and in turn, we will change. New technologies, such as Super AI, will emerge and open fresh possibilities, but also a shift in digital requirements and capabilities. Automation can, therefore, only be said to be the next step of digitization; it cannot be seen as the conclusion.

Read part 1: The Robots are Coming. And part 2: Your First Robot Employee here.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash