Automation in the workplace, robotics, employee engagement, organisational psychology

Management / Setting the stage for an automated future

Setting the stage for an automated future

Automation in the workforce is set to give employees new roles which are more creative, innovative and of higher value to companies. These jobs will be able to help firms solve problems, find new opportunities and enable staff to be more attentive to their customers.

Analysis by JPMorgan Asset Management predicts that over the next 10 to 15 years technological advances such as automation, could increase gross domestic product (GDP) by more than $1.1trillion worldwide.

But using these technologies will require investment. Companies need to update old legacy systems, put money into new infrastructure and train their staff accordingly. A recent Future of Automation report by IT services firm Adaptavist found only 8 per cent of companies thought they had all the training, tools and processes in place.

“A lot of organisations aren’t really ready yet,” says Simon Haighton-Williams, CEO of Adaptavist. “But there is a high degree of variability around that.”

The survey also showed employees were still spending a lot of time completing tasks that could be automated, with 36 per cent spending two to four hours of their working day on manual tasks.

 

What do companies need to do?

Haighton-Williams believes a big part of the reason organisations have been slow to implement these types of technologies is a lack of training, and fears that automating systems will hinder regulatory compliance. The research found that 92 per cent felt more training was required before automation could take place.

In order to get businesses ready for this disruption, there needs to be a certain amount of behavioural change by employees, states Haighton-Williams. To make automation a success within a company, employees need to change the way in which they think about work.

He points out this can sometimes face resistance. “The fear of uncertainty and change is probably the biggest challenge,” Haighton-Williams says. “Businesses need to look at their culture. How they operate and how they are going to engage with their staff and reward them for adopting this. The biggest challenge in reskilling is finding the time and the cultural space for people to do it.”

 

The coming changes

But, he thinks, most of these concerns will disappear once the advantages of these technologies are fully understood. Furthermore, he feels that, as younger people move into management, resistance will ease, as automated technologies are already a big part of their lives.

For example, millennials are known for their familiarity with technology, he explains. They communicate to their friends through their smartphones, listen to music by asking Amazon’s Alexa or set their lights to come on through a home-automated device. “It is a step towards a brave new future where there is an integrated computing platform, that delivers what people need on a day to day basis,” says Haigton-Williams. He believes that, as home automation becomes more popular, people will also start to see the benefits in the workplace.

But despite many businesses not being ready, the report showed they were positive about implementing automation technologies. Of respondents, 95 per cent believed it would increase productivity and 78 per cent thought that, although some jobs would disappear, they would be replaced by higher-value ones.

“You can look at automation like being an assistant rather than a replacement,” says Haighton-Williams. “You look at how other new technologies have been deployed. For example, in the kitchen we have food processors these days. It does not remove the [need for the] skill of the chef, it just means they can do things faster and more predictably.”

Not all sectors are behind when it comes to implementing these types of technologies in the workplace. The IT and software industries have been successfully doing it for the past few years. “The reason why IT companies are so far ahead is because people are encourage to play and explore with new technologies as part of their day-to-day job,” says Haighton-Williams.

It has turned laborious manual work, Haighton-Williams points out, which can often produce inconsistent end-results, into work that has a greater deal of accuracy and can be more efficiently produced.

“Now you can simply push a button and have a whole solution, a whole separate service, processes and tools delivered repeatedly quickly and the same every time,” he says. “That was not the case 10 years ago.”

The finance industry, although not as far ahead as the IT sector, has also been turning towards these technologies to make services more efficient. For example, by automating tasks once done by a human, a mobile bank account can be set up in 10 minutes on a Sunday morning, says Haighton-Williams. “Recently – as little as two or three years ago – it was a real ordeal,” he says. “It could take days.”

Traditionally, such processes would rely on a person having to type information into the same system multiple times, making it time consuming and error prone. Now automation has enabled services to become connected, rather than rely on a human to cut and paste data between services.

 

What will the future look like?

Haighton-Williams sees automation enhancing the way people work rather than replacing it. For example, if people had 10 things to do in the past, he says, five of those things will be automated in the future, allowing them to concentrate on more sophisticated jobs.

“As we increasingly move from a manufacturing to a services economy, it is inevitable that technology will come along, and you can’t stand in the way of it,” he says.

“It is going to take away the hard bits of the service industry and allow people to focus on the softer elements, which technology is a long way off from being able to touch. It frees people to do more of the human side of things that aren’t so predictable and repeatable.”

The big advantage is that it will give firms a competitive edge, as they can do things more productively. But Haighton-Williams warns that companies risk being left behind by their competitors if they don’t move forwards.

“Businesses can either let change happen and risk missing out, or they can drive it,” he says. “As businesses think about their journey over the next 10 years, they need to accept the fact they’re going to be changing constantly. Automation helps the enterprise keep pace with that perpetual change.”

These new technologies will take the mundane out of work and give employees a new purpose in their jobs. And by focusing on higher-value work, employees will become more productive, helping companies to gain that competitive edge.