The Fear of Automation.
As a leader of the organization, you likely put your people first. You enjoy seeing the growth and development of those around you, taking pride in your ability to coach and mentor your staff. Whether you’re a manager on the shop floor or a president of an organization, you probably believe your company is your people. The last few years have been harsh to your people. Economic conditions before the pandemic weren’t great, and indeed there have been challenges for us all since. Some of the most challenging moments can be when you have to make choices regarding your staff. It’s hard and unpleasant. The empathy you have for your team is why it’s understandable to be concerned with people’s jobs and adopting new technology. Technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation, or even new software with workflow automation sometimes have issues getting traction or being picked up by organizations for fear of taking away jobs. These are super powerful technologies and have an undeniable ability to displace work. This article aims to guide you through how you can adopt technology but still put your people first – It is possible. Ultimately, most technology’s purpose is to increase efficiencies and dynamically change processes to improve your business – you can decide how. We believe that this can be done with your people front and center.
It almost seems inconceivable that there was a time where organizations didn’t use computers to complete their work. Today, the pace is quickened with the advanced setup of cloud-based networks, software as a subscription, and what seems to be the daily news of business processes being disrupted by tech. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being commonly implemented without organizations fully knowing it. Updates to operating systems, security patches, and changing software versions are more and more incorporating AI in their code. Furthermore, new line of business applications comes with workflow automation as a core feature and a selling proposition that emphasizes ROI and net present value. While it’s true that automation could eliminate the needs of specific roles and positions, the realities of automation don’t always match the rhetoric.
The Realties of Automation.
Traditionally artificial intelligence opportunities for automation were primarily task-based. If a worker is working on something routine that reoccurred often, there is a strong place for AI to automate it. With the argument that it would allow that worker to move on to other tasks. With the advancements of technology and machine learning, predictive models have presented automation opportunities for non-task-related work. The ability for machines to work in unpredictable situations making or assisting decisions by reviewing large databases. If a whole workload is automated, where does the person fit in? The technology operates within society, social and political factors play a significant role. Regulations and policies, both government-based and corporate-based, can protect workers and likely will. Societal pressures aside, a historical adaption of advanced tech has not led to the elimination of work but changes to the composition of how people complete their roles. Technology typically redefines how people work rather than entirely replace their jobs.
A classic example is ATMs. ATMs or even online banking have not entirely replaced bank tellers. What bank tellers do daily has changed, but the role still exists and has shifted to meet new market demands. Just like remote work hasn’t removed meetings, it’s just changed how they occur. Another similar comparison is online shopping. Retail brick and mortar stores still exist, but they are going through a transition to find how they best fit into a hybrid, digitized world. Online shopping has become an additional stream of revenue for brands and stores alike. Similar transitions are likely to continue as technology continues to transform. Finally, there is work and a lot of it that can’t always be reduced to a set of rules and routine tasks. Human knowledge is challenging to articulate and automate. However, we shouldn’t just hope that this will be the case; there are ways to build a strategy that puts your people first.
The Role For Automation at Work.
Organizations that produce the most significant improvements are when people and technology work together. Typical people’s strengths like leadership, teamwork, and creativity boost the capabilities of technology, and technology does the same in return. Technology can scan and manage massive amounts of data where people can’t. Business needs both the quantitative power that tech can provide and the soft skills that people bring. People will still be required to train the use of technology or even train the technology itself. People will need to sustain these systems, help them. In return, advanced technology can amplify decision-making abilities, present information that is current, relevant, and with scale. This will boost creativity, bringing the creation of new products and services – building new markets.
A great example of people and technology working together is a case study with Mercedes Benz. Customer individualization has grown over the years, with the adoption of placing orders online and customizing automobile features and models. This provides excellent customer insight, trend analysis and influences the supply chain.
Still, it was challenging for Mercedes Benz to adjust to the individualization on the shop floor for manufacturing. Their robotic arms could not adapt to the changing product lines. As a result, their costs skyrocketed. Mercedes Benz invested in tech instead of being discouraged. They bought new robotic arms that implemented AI. Even with the AI, people were still needed because of the new and continually changing variables that individualization brings. These new robotic arms had to be guided by workers. The product individualization brought a level of creativity and decision-making for the shop floor, best suited for people. Mercedes implemented a hybridization between technology and the worker. A new job was created and one that was more fulfilling and empowering than assembly lines of the past.
A Strategy to Keep People First.
Here is a list of considerations that we believe will help keep people a part of the solution when looking at technology that could displace work:
- What type of new work will this Ttchnology create?
- Where will you reinvest the efficiencies gained?
- How does this technology create more demand for your products and services?
- How will this technology create the need for more jobs?
- Where does implementing this technology increase demand to your supply chain?
- How will your competitors respond?
Answering these questions and more like them can set an intention and a strategy for adapting to new technology. It can create wins like the Mercedes example. It looks to rise a tide that floats all boats. Setting this intention will deliver a maximum impact to your organization, community, and market. If you can create new kinds of work, reinvest capital, boost demand, increase jobs, build new orders for your supply chain and encourage competitors to do the same, you will keep people working.
How Solut Can Help.
At solut, regardless of the project, we encourage ways to put people first – to leave no one behind. The pursuit of efficiency and process improvement can positively impact others. If you are looking to do so, solut is here to help.