In the media

The human case for automation

Management Today

14 June 2019

This article was first published in Management Today

Popular culture has for years fuelled a mythical concept of robots turning on their creators. From Frankenstein to The Terminator, these stories have instilled a fear in many of us that the robots of today – using the most sophisticated AI and automation - are going to steal our jobs.

Whilst there are reports of factory workers in China being replaced by machines, evidence in the UK at least tells a different story. Recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and PA Consulting found that, despite our view of machines as job-destroying entities, over a third of organisations introducing AI or automation in the last five years saw more roles created than lost and only a quarter saw fewer roles as the result of its implementation.

Furthermore, 41 per cent of organisations implementing AI and automation reported an increase in pay and 43 per cent reported increased opportunities for employees to learn new things. The challenge now for company leaders is to implement AI in ways that maximises the potential of their human workforce.

AI will make our jobs more interesting

AI can clearly improve performance by reducing process times and human error, and increasing the volume of tasks, such as invoice payment or production, which can be completed in a certain time. As well as creating these efficiencies, removing monotonous tasks from people’s roles can make their jobs more interesting. 

For example, Hampshire County Council is using Amazon’s Alexa in the homes of those needing social care support. The technology provides medication reminders, allows those living with physical disabilities to control their physical environment, for example, heating and lighting and allows the Council to securely leave messages on the devices to update carers on user needs. This has meant fewer routine home visits and more time for carer and care workers to use their uniquely human characteristics in the service they provide.

In recruitment, applicant tracking companies like HireVue are using AI to deliver services from interview and resource scheduling to video interviewing. The AI applications remove the need for the repetitive task of reviewing high volumes of applicants, leaving recruiters with more time to focus on how to get the right people with the right skills into the organisation.

AI will make us better at what we do

As our lives become more complex and connected, employees increasingly need technology to help manage the demands of so many contacts and relationships across our personal and professional lives. The need to collaborate across geographies and organisations will only continue to grow as consumer trends and social behaviour drive a more global footprint.

That threatens to overwhelm us and make our jobs more stressful, but AI can provide the answer. From dealing with email traffic through providing tailored message responses to more complex predictive analytics that enable us to forecast demand for a service or product, so a business can plan its future workload, the technology can make our working lives better.

AI is accessible technology

Unlike many recent technological developments, such as cloud computing, which need considerable infrastructure or specialised equipment, many AI applications just need a laptop. Botsify, Facebook’s chatbot service, enables you to build a chatbot in minutes to help identify leads for your Facebook business page.

The real advantage is that these intuitive systems can be implemented quickly and allow you to access data fast, which gives the humans in the business valuable customer insight, without the need for extensive training and new equipment.

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All leadership teams should have AI on the agenda. It is relevant to CEOs, CIOs, HRDs and divisional leaders and all of them need to work out where AI can be used to improve performance, enhance the workplace and deliver a better employee experience.

As with all new technology, the challenge is to get the right balance between waiting to see how it develops and getting started quickly. To help achieve this, companies should invest in a tool for AI development.

Microsoft’s AI platform creates an intelligent cloud service with broad capabilities. Other services like Pandorabots enable companies to build and host chatbots with them – many suppliers will happily demonstrate their solutions, which enables businesses to break down some of the myths about how complex the technology is.

However, the best way to implement AI is simply to start, develop a vision of how it can solve a problem, experiment with a range of options and then expanding those that work quickly across the organisation. 

It is important to plan the technical and people aspects together to make a coherent whole, rather than seeing the technology as a sticking plaster. That means taking the time to understand employees’ perspectives and needs and then using that to build the technology around them, rather than automating tasks and forcing people to fit in.

It is human ingenuity in a technology-driven world that creates value and makes companies more effective. This makes it essential to plan our future workforce from the perspective of both human and machine, and focus on how AI can bring benefits to the organisation by improving its performance and to the individual by making their jobs more interesting.

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