“There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human]”, Elon Musk famously announced at the World Government Summit in February. For many, statements like this result in a chorus of concern about how we humans need to stay on our toes, lest intelligent machines displace our jobs and cause mass unemployment. However, there are many opportunities that automation brings and what we need to be focusing on is how it can be used to improve, rather than replace existing roles.

As we all know, there are aspects of jobs that are tedious and repetitive, and this is where automation can add value. Take chatbots that answer basic customer queries, speech recognition tools that transcribe text, advanced analytics technologies that analyse unstructured data, and natural language processing tools that schedule appointments. Rather than replacing skilled workers, these capabilities are augmenting their roles by undertaking the ‘robotic’ aspects of the workplace allowing humans to be more efficient in other aspects of their roles.

On top of performing simple administrative tasks, even more, advantageous is artificial intelligence (AI) driven automation that mimics the complex process of human learning and decision-making. This is known as intelligent automation (IA) or cognitive automation. From research Avanade commissioned, we found that over half of business leaders worldwide are confident that IA will augment rather than replace existing roles. In addition, 86 per cent believe their business should implement IA solutions in the next five years to be a market leader, according to the same research.

However, to deploy IA effectively, an understanding of its correct role is fundamental. IA certainly can increase efficiency in the workplace, but greater productivity will only follow if the technology is aligned with the right objectives. For this reason, IA needs to be firmly goal-oriented, and implemented within a well thought out digital transformation strategy – not as a disparate point solution that saves a few minutes for a handful of employees across the business each day.

There is a substantial “fear factor” when it comes to IAClick To Tweet

It is also important to understand that to implement new technologies and ways of working effectively, heads of department may require new skills and capabilities to successfully bring the collective workforce on board.

Eliminating the IA fear factor

There is a substantial “fear factor” when it comes to IA, likely stirred by the media driven panic around the subject. These technologies enhance our day-to-day activities, and free us up to focus on more interesting, higher level tasks – rather than, say, bearing the frustration of waiting in a call queue for an answer to a simple question.

Relating these capabilities to a typical modern working environment such as a call centre further sheds light on the benefits of IA in the workplace. Answering the similar questions about store opening times is hardly going to give an employee job satisfaction. Applying their knowledge to help solve more complex customer queries may be more rewarding though.

To succeed with IA, we need to recognise both the strengths and shortcomings of humans and IA technology, as the right balance of human and IA capabilities will help optimise each other’s performance. Then, implementing IA within the right framework will result in a more engaged and more productive workforce.

People may fear the rise of automation, but they also dislike performing robotic tasks. IA gives us significant opportunity to improve the way we work, eliminate meaningless tasks and give us greater job satisfaction. It’s time we embraced robots to start working with us, not in place of us.

Previous articleExecutive Education Episode 3: Transformational Leadership
Next articleCloud Expo Asia interview with Jitender Khurana from Philips Lighting
Mark is the Chief Technology Officer for Avanade in the UK. Mark has been with Avanade for over 15 years and has held a number of leadership positions including heading Application Development and Head of Digital. He has worked with Microsoft technologies for over 25 years, developing software and delivering large, leading edge integration projects for some of the largest UK organisations across a range of industries with a particular focus on energy and resources. He currently studying the AI course from Stanford University online. Mark studied at UMIST and Lancaster. He and his wife Susannah have two young daughters, who keep Mark busy when he is not working.