Businesses are increasingly advancing the use of automated and AI technologies, but are we ready to manage teams with people, robots and AI working together side-by-side? What does an augmented workforce truly look like and what do C-suite executives need to know about this growing trend to make it work for their businesses?

It’s important to remember that an augmented workforce is not a new thing. Since the dawn of time, humans showed a distinctive ability in making and operating tools, and these tools have evolved with us. Making them requires growing specialisation – such as training an AI – but operating them is becoming easy for the end user.

With the rise of machine learning we are witnessing yet another industrial revolution (and let’s hope not the last one led by humans!) where the level of human supervision on the machine will be a bare minimum and, arguably, there could be a reverse hierarchy with the AI supervising some human tasks. But we do not need to look too far into the future to witness the changes – these are already happening in our working lives today.

No matter how wary we humans are of this type of technology, the augmented workforce is not something an executive can decide whether to embrace or not. It’s happening. Every day, we deal with an augmented workforce, either directly, or indirectly through colleagues who use automation in their daily activities. The pattern is simple: usually, a minor initial investment of time and money in an automated solution generates a disruptive return on investment because a human could not achieve the same task in the same amount of time.

The Digital Open Office

We are already experiencing much more open and on-demand working environments in many industries through a mobile and remote-centric trend. An augmented office changes the dynamics of the different tools needed to supplement the compromise of office-based collaboration and facilities-based environment. For example, the use of printers, the next-door colleague, office managers or internal companies providing computers which sets the tone for data tracking and compliance from IT teams.

When it comes to digital innovation and a mobile workforce, we are seeing technology becoming ever-more crucial for mobile staff. From the transportation of fleets to technical offsite engineers, the workforce is dependent on technologies to carry out their jobs, yet these tasks still require human expertise to execute them, so it’s a co-dependent dynamic.

Controlled Environment and Data Protection

The anticipated benefits of an augmented workforce – whether it’s an AI-driven, an automation tool or complete AI robot assistance – are to diminish human error and increase productivity. Reducing human error through automation is one of the core reasons companies are deploying intelligent systems that can, for example, support decision-making through the means of eliminating data chaos. Increasing transparency by auto-data gathering and enforcing technology that controls data by establishing a more efficient workflow related to that individual task.

Robotic process automation can run 24/7, allowing room and filling the void for out-of-hours routines. This would of course depend on the type of business, but we deploy all kinds of automation from CRM systems to self-help tours based on user behaviour, all of which requires human setup, maintenance and management.

An interesting Research conducted by Deloitte states that over 34% of the workforce already adopts AI or robotics, and another 34% are in the process of implementing. From a business perspective, AI can bring a new competitive edge and game-changing processes to deliver better value faster.

The Future

Uniting ever-more sophisticated technologies into the human workforce will be an experimental process. It will be an exploration of the array of new developments that can meet the changing needs of businesses and support growth through new process innovation. This allows employees to focus on management rather than repetitive tasks. Empowering employees to focus on more cognitive competencies which technology will struggle to achieve.
AI-based technology has evolved and is easier to use and manage. Different applications are now talking to each other through APIs, further streamlining data and disrupting the status quo workflow. So we must adapt. An augmented workforce will require a changing role or skill set in everyday lives, as opposed to replacing them.

Over the next few years we will face some interesting challenges. On the one hand humans will have to accept that machines will get better than them at, for example, recognising patterns, such as with fraud detection. On the other hand, there is a debate about whether we will require machines to make ethical decisions. Or will they design their own ethical rules? AI and automation are unavoidable, they are here already.