By Sherif Choudhry, Managing Director, BCG Platinion
For some time now, automation has been shaking up how we operate in the workplace. With restrictions now lifted and many businesses returning to the office, organisations may turn to automation to optimise certain work processes. However, the level of disruption has earnt the technology a reputation of being both a hero and a villain.
In a World Economic Forum Risk Report, it was reported that automation may displace 85 million jobs in the next five years. Of course, this has been accelerated by Covid 19, but the report also warned us that damage to building a digitally inclusive society could be done with the accelerated automation adoption.
And this worry is felt among workers; just over 40% of those surveyed stated they were anxious at the prospect of automation affecting their role. What’s more, 43% shared their concerns over being monitored by their employees while working remotely.
The reality is that automation lies somewhere in between. At its best, when employees’ needs are put at the forefront of innovation, technology is an enabler to improve society. That paired with creativity and ingenuity that is centred around behavioural change, technology can be used as an enabling tool to create new value. Only demonstrating this value to employees will eradicate the fear of diminishing the number of jobs that is associated with automation.
It is all about perspective
As humans we have always been sceptical of any major change to our lives. When trains were first introduced people had genuine concerns over passengers being unable to breathe. And similarly, the conversation around automation is still largely dominated by a fear of job losses, with it set to impact businesses large and small across the globe. But this perception is skewed, for example when automation revolutionised the textile industry, not only new jobs were created, but even industries.
Now we communicate on a regular basis with chatbots when we shop or pay bills. While that has removed the need for call agents, the use of chatbots has created new roles that are higher quality and pay, such as working with data to develop new customer offerings and support.
The evidence is there to sustain this claim; a 2020 World Economic Forum HYPERLINK “https://www.forbes.com/sites/suzytaherian/2020/05/26/36-million-unemployed-how-ai-can-create-jobs/?sh=5b99ec34a8c9” report forecasted a global upsurge in AI related roles, increasing to 123 from 78 vacancies per 10,000. When viewed from this perspective, automation presents an prosperous opportunity to both workers and employers. But organisations and Governments must take on the responsibility of helping society understand what automation means for them and slowly build trust in technology. That involves introducing change management programmes and investing in upskilling and reskilling.
Organisations have a vital role
Before adopting technology such as automation, organisations must first communicate what a re-imagined future holds for their existing workforce. That includes highlighting ‘why’ the change is happening and the future benefits. All too often, this step is overlooked by a marketing report or in IT.
After all, our behaviours inform the technology being used at work and in turn, the technology we use informs our behaviours. With that understanding, organisations can overcome the negative connotation and trust issues associated with automation. Choosing to approach this change with this process is vital to alleviate disruption to society.
Chief Digital Officers has a vital role and will be fundamental to envisioning and implementing a re-imagined future with new technology, not to mention communicating its impact to the workforce.
Bionic combines the best of human expertise, data, and technology
Despite the challenges of designing and implementing new technology, a bionic approach alters this. To take advantage of technology, ethically, bionic combines the best of human expertise, data, and technology to create a resilient organisation that wins in the new reality.
It goes without saying that planning is not all plain sailing as technology significantly changes every six to twelve months. Realising how those changes will impact work processes and society is a key strategic function of businesses.
Consider emerging technologies; Robotic Process Automation, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI). New professional talent with a relevant skillset is needed in order to design, implement, adopt and operate such technologies. Then organisations will be able to develop new areas of value as the right people will be operating in the right roles. And in the process of doing so will create new roles and the opportunity to employ more people.
Organisations clearly need a human-centric design approach to services and products. For successful implementation and adoption most, strategies require a mix of human expertise and technology capabilities. This only comes from clear strategy and purpose that outlines a roadmap to a conclusion through a connection between people and IT. This bionic approach paves the way to future success and allows organisations to quickly respond to change and uncertainty, making growth a likelier prospect.
Balancing ambition and change
The responsibility of ensuring the benefits of automation is understood by workers, sits at organisational and government level. But at grassroot level, digital literacy, for the most part, is only happening in the developed world. However, it is just as important that people in developing countries are given the same opportunity, so a digital divide is avoided.
For example, businesses and governments could join forces to better support or redevelop educations systems across parts of the world. Doing so, would make sure future generation are educated in how to utilise continually evolving technology and inspire by the prospect of creating new societal change.
However, those already employed an organisation workforce should not be forgotten. As essential is upskilling and reskilling training, which will not only build trust, but also ensure the benefits of technology are realised and experienced, and simultaneously mitigating risk.
Rendering jobs redundant is inevitable with wide-scale automation, but businesses must never avert away from the human factor and be ready to invest in their employees as well as their infrastructure. We believe that when leaders make key businesses decisions at an organisational level, employees and societal value, should be held in the same regard as that of their stakeholders.