THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN AUTOMATION

THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN AUTOMATION

February 10, 2020

The fourth industrial revolution brought in concepts such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) that have the potential to revolutionize the way businesses operate. Organizations around the world are already reaping the benefits of these changes. But this also comes with a foreboding that clouds our minds – isn’t automation going to take away our jobs? While the results of the rapidly developing technology are able to certain tasks with more accuracy and efficiency than humans, it will not make human contribution obsolete. Rather, it will allow us opportunities to grow and transform with it – making human contribution essential for success.

 

The Limits Of Technology

Concern regarding new technology and methods is nothing new – the industrial revolution made the agricultural jobs obsolete, and before that, agriculture put the hunter-gatherers out of work, but people found new ways to evolve and adapt to the changes.

Automation can surpass humans in many activities. A study from McKinsey demonstrated that around half the activities (not jobs) can be automated, while around 5 percent of occupations can be fully automated by currently demonstrated technologies.

Still, automation does not have the capacity to fully replace human input. Yes, automation can gain excellence over humans in only very specific tasks, and AI can assist in decision making, but we still have to rely on humans for the situations that are not tightly controlled, situations that require skills like creativity, empathy, critical thinking, and leadership.

Again, AI has its own setbacks. There are instances where AI can reflect human biases. As an example, we can take Amazon’s AI-driven hiring tool that displayed preference toward white candidates. This problem eventually led to Amazon’s scrapping of the project.

 

The Changing Skill-sets

Automation will accelerate the change in the skills required in the workforce. There will be a rising demand for advanced technological skills such as programming. The more complex skills including creativity and critical thinking will also see a rise in demand.

In the financial services industry, the need for a workforce with basic cognitive skills – data input and processing, basic numeracy – will decline, while professionals and technology experts will be required. Social and emotional skills for customer interaction and management will be preferred in the workforce.

The shift in skill requirements will be similar in the retail and manufacturing industry, manual and predictable tasks, for example – driving, the packing will be automated in the retail industry, and advanced technology and information processing skills will see a substantial rise in demand.

The healthcare industry will still require physical and manual skills for physical therapy, complex surgeries; and empathy and fine motor skills for nursing. Here, the back-end support will be automated, and demand for human skills will decrease.

Automation will only be taking over tasks or activities, not our jobs. It will merely change the nature of our jobs, where emotional, cognitive and advanced technological skills will be required. This can also create new jobs, and give birth to exciting new industries.

 

A Human-Centric Approach

Organizations will have to rethink the roles in their workforce and focus on adding value throughout their processes. In order for automation to be successful, companies will need to integrate human effort into their automation plans. For this to succeed, widespread adoption and acceptance of technology should be encouraged by the managers. Employees who might be affected by automation should be directly involved in defining the process automation. Engaging employees can lead to a better understanding of the impact that automation will have in the workplace. This improved understanding will help the employees adapt to the change.

The initial stage will only involve automating the regular, well-defined tasks. Input from employees can be used to improve the effectiveness of the automated function. As employees are freed from tedious work, they will have more time to focus on more creative work and make complex decisions. For example, an HR manager spends a lot of time doing easily automatable work – selecting job candidates, sending follow up emails, answering queries. After those tasks have been automated, the HR manager can focus on work that is not up for automation – building personal relationships, managing employee concerns, engaging employees and assist managers in solving problems.

After all, executing automation effectively will require a cross-functional team effort. Members from product, design, IT and the leaders can raise the important questions, expand their visions, create innovative solutions and make better decisions. An organization-wide approach would both benefit automation, the organization and the stakeholders.

 

Driving The Cultural Shift

Implementing automation is a complex process, requiring reinvention of the business processes.

The company will have to undergo a mindset shift and should prioritize continuous learning. The traditional hierarchical structure will shift towards cross-functional and team-based work, and collaboration between teams will be of key importance. The work allocation will undergo heavy changes, and work will be unbundled and bundled to create a rejuvenated workforce.

To help the workforce successfully adapt to new technology, companies will need to educate and train employees about technology, teach them to interpret data for maximum impact. The employees, in turn, should be shown appreciation for their contribution which machines cannot replicate, and for their experience, awareness of context and domain knowledge. The employees should also be encouraged to find innovative solutions and processes, and to find ways to get the most out of technology.

 

Case In Point

To illustrate the scope of human-automation collaboration, we’ll consider Troy Design and Manufacturing (TDM), a metal stamping subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. Automobile manufacturing is an industry that can exploit the benefits of automation to a great extent. TDM installed an automated tracking system to monitor and aid the vehicle conversion process.

Working with their partner, TDM installed vehicle tracking RFID technology after extensive research. This implementation led to an automated workflow with higher visibility and precise data collection. With the deployed infrastructure aiding the process, the employees now could focus more on their tasks and the workflow became more streamlined. This change could not have been possible without human interaction and participation in the process of change.

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