Automation is a source of wonder and anxiety in almost equal measure. While automated tools and processes are heralded as ushering in a new era of productivity, sustainability and capability across all areas of business, there is also a dark side to automation in the public perception — the idea that robots will take human jobs.
Of course, on a fundamental level, this is true. Automated processes are designed to handle tasks that human operators had previously been responsible for. However, these particular tasks are ones that are repetitive, laborious and not suited to the way the human brain works. Leaving them to people can increase the risk of human error and inefficiency. When automated, these tasks are executed with more accuracy and effectiveness.
However, the concern for automation is a little more complex than this. Critics should not be concerned with whether these tools and procedures are replacing human employees in specific tasks, but rather, is automation making human personnel obsolete? This is certainly not the goal of automation. Human team members will always have a significant role to play in business. What automation is doing is evolving this role instead of nudging teams towards obsolescence.
When deployed in the right way, automation helps businesses to leverage the capabilities of the human mind — for example, utilizing the traits that make the human mind so powerful, such as critical thinking and creative capabilities
The Growing Scope of Automation
Automation in business and industry is nothing new. George Devol founded Unimation, the first robot manufacturing firm, in the 1950s, and their robot was working on the General Motors production line by 1961. Even before this, during the industrial revolution, workers felt that technology was threatening their livelihoods.
Despite this, it is easy to see why anxiety has grown more acute in recent years. Automation is now found across a broad variety of different business operations — from system anomaly analysis to customer service chatbots built upon Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology.
As this scope increases, so does the number of workers in different fields who come into contact with automation. There is a perceived “automation creep” — an unstoppable advance of automation into all areas of business, eliminating the need for salaried human workers altogether.
The Shifting Role of the Worker
This anxiety is a legitimate one. When it comes to certain tasks, such as data entry or statistical analysis, human operators cannot compete with the rapid computing power of an automated system. However, worries over the advancement of automation are not supported by statistics.
In 2020, the World Economic Forum published the Future of Jobs report. The report found that automation is likely to displace 85 million jobs by 2025, as robotic machines and automated software replaces human personnel across key tasks. But the report went further, analyzing how many jobs would be created in an increasingly automated landscape. In total, it is estimated that 97 million new positions may be created by automation by 2025, more than offsetting jobs losses as a result of new ways of doing business.
So, if automation will actively create jobs, what will these jobs look like? In a general sense, more menial tasks will be handled by automated tools and processes, while human operators will be responsible for handling strategic and critical thinking roles. In practice, this means that accounting, bookkeeping and payroll tasks are likely to become automated, as software platforms are more adept at processing data and mitigating any anomalies. On the other hand, human Big Data specialists and digital marketing strategists will be in higher demand — it requires the critical faculties of the human mind to translate processed data into actionable strategic operations.
In the case of customer service, the waters are a little muddied, but the general principles are the same. Many customers who contact the service department of an organization are looking for swift and effective resolutions to simple queries — for example, changing their billing information or resetting password — which can easily be handled by bots. However, other customers will need sophisticated and personalized support delivered by a human operator.
In this instance, the human staff member does not need to waste time handling simple queries and can devote their full attention to where it is needed. Solutions such as IBM’s Cloud Pak for Business Automation have been found to reduce the amount of time spent on manual processes by around 90% while cutting customer wait times in half. This is a testament to automation as a tool for supporting the human workforce, rather than replacing it.
A People-first Approach to Automation
The numbers suggest that automation is a friend of human teams, rather than a foe, but there is still a public relations battle to be won. Human operators need to buy into the idea of automation as a benefit, and this means businesses will need to demonstrate the positive aspects of the technology as they assist workers to re-skill and grow into their new roles.
This makes a people-first approach critical to the ongoing adoption of automated processes. If a business leads with technology — implementing automated solutions first and then working to calm fears second — this leads to a negative atmosphere in the workplace. It is understandable that team members may interpret this as a process of replacement.
If, instead, management adopts a people-first approach and works with team members ahead of deployment, the perception is very different. Management teams need to communicate the benefits of automation before such technology is implemented. For example, the Watson Orchestrate solution from IBM can save up to 50% of work time for human teams thanks to automated support. Start by educating teams on these advantages.
Harness the Power of Automation and Support Your Teams with IBM
As a licensed IBM partner, we are perfectly positioned to help you find the automation solutions you need to grow your business in the future. Reach out to our team today and find out more about what these automated tools and platforms can help you achieve.