The Robots are coming – is this a problem?

Organisations will need to find the right balance between technology, people and change in order to achieve excellence in their digital workforce.

In a world of changing consumer demands and faster paced change, there is a growing discussion about how robots will provide the answer in helping organisations reduce costs and improve customer service. There is no doubt the potential impact could be significant – some studies have already predicted that nearly 50 % of US jobs are at risk of automation. 

This debate inevitably has focussed on what this means for us all, with a number of commentators predicting that the future of the workforce will be dominated by technology. After all robots are reliable, consistent and, in theory, more intelligent. 

Over the last thirty years we have heard this before, of course, with technology enabled change being at the heart of changes to the workforce, as organisations looked for ways to innovate, reinvent themselves, streamline their processes and cut costs. 

Will humans really be replaced?

Since the start of industrialisation, societies have often treated technological advancement within the workplace with scepticism. History is full of examples from the Luddite movement of the 19th century destroying factory equipment, to Gandhi who campaigned against technological adoption1. Economists countered that lost jobs would be replaced with new jobs, and this has proven to be – largely – correct. However, it could be argued that the situation we find today is different. 

Robots are deployed across the workplace from prescriptive, logic-based solutions that input data automatically to AI and NLP powered virtual assistants which help write tailored reports.  Machines are being developed to think through advancements in neural networks and extend far beyond manual labour. 

We are however still at the early stages of developing true AI and the supporting algorithms are still in their infancy. Furthermore, the human skills of being able to develop empathy and relationships are extremely difficult to replicate through technology, certainly for the foreseeable future even with the advancements in Artificial Intelligence.  This feels like humans will be needed – but will be deployed in different ways. 

Attracting the brightest minds

Our vision of the workforce of the future is built around the key pillars of emerging technology, people and change. We believe that all three components are intrinsically linked to delivering long term value. Organisations that maintain the right mix of these ingredients will succeed in building a strong workforce capability, and, as we explored in our previous perspective, having one strong capability inside an organisation’s digital ecosystem will be a must.

As robots automate parts of our work, organisations have been responding to change brought by automation for the past few decades. For example, in the Finance industry, which has seen rapid automation over the last 20-30 years2, the introduction of the ATM, rather than destroy bank teller jobs, actually helped to increase them3. Banks have seen an opportunity to both drive efficiencies and productivity through automation but also use their workforce to then provide better service to their customers. There is no question that customers expect better insight and service than ever before. 

Automating mundane tasks provides organisations with an opportunity to deliver tailored service and allow their workers to take on more meaningful interactions. Advancements in technologies such as AR / VR and AI change office routines and the way people view work. As more processes are run by solutions such as RPA, the workforce expects more learning opportunities and flexible working, reducing the need for office space and overheads4

These digital ways of working are starting to become the norm. Employees expect stimulating work ‘experiences’ rather than routine transactional roles. They want to be seen as internal customers and demand the same assistance and service as they obtain in other areas of their life outside of work. Therefore, organisations need to consider how they can assist and enrich their employees’ working experiences as well as how to drive efficiencies and insight into the business. 

AI is likely to change not only the way work is completed but also how well organisations understand their employees. Technology already has the power to drive better decision making and arm employees with the tools to make informed decisions. In the future we believe this can be extended to giving organisations better insights about their employees and making interventions where necessary. 

Being part of the revolution

Although digital savvy generations have been in employment for a few years, an organisation’s workforce does not immediately embrace the digital environment. According to Forrester5, there are five people barriers which are all common for adopting the digital innovation: fear of change, risk-averse culture, negative perception of budget, employees’ time being redirected from core business into innovation and finally fear of failure. 

All of these can be managed with a clear digital vision from the top. When this vision is lacking or is ill prepared, the people and culture barriers come into play. This is why too often the workplace of the future is branded as a vision of automation, job loss and a lack of human connection where humans are subservient to huge conglomerate machines run by robots. It is not too surprising then that a Gartner survey found that only 18% of organisations are prepared to adopt solutions and services that enable digital ways of working6.

Some of the most intelligent organisations we have worked with see automation not only as an opportunity to cut costs and drive efficiencies but also re-deploy their people in more fulfilling roles. This forms part of their digital vision which in return helps change the internal culture. People need to be empowered to help drive the change and the benefits outlined to them. 

In the future, organisations should be looking to create more collaboration spaces, where people can work together using any channel from VR to smart screens7, and AI assistants to manage calendars and information search. In return organisations can expect a happier workforce, leading to greater productivity8

Automation and robots are just one part of the workplace of the future, albeit an important ingredient. Its combination with other ingredients – people and change – is what will really set organisations apart from their competition. 

Making change happen

In order to deliver a workplace for the future, organisations must review their current technology estate, architecture and vision. Large organisations which have grown organically often have a cluster of different, incompatible legacy systems that cause inefficiencies through the workplace. This means that building a strong digital workforce becomes a challenge. 

Whilst RPA is one answer to helping solve this issue, we advise our clients to begin thinking beyond fixing the issues of today. The future workplace will require a combination of big data, flexible and easily accessible tools and seamless access of information across devices. In order to achieve this, organisations must place integration at the forefront, where solutions are compatible, and data is easily captured, managed and shared. Manual re-entry of data across multiple platforms should be avoided at all costs. This can be achieved through various ways such as by leveraging cloud, third party integrated software, a scalable architecture and enterprise software. To obtain a clearer view, it is imperative a digital workforce vision is captured and then reviewed against the current technology estate.

The power of three pillars enables digital workforce

The workplace has changed dramatically over the last twenty-five years with the proliferation of technologies such as email, mobile and cloud. This has changed the expectations of both organisations and their workers. With technology developing faster than ever before, organisations must prepare to embrace the change. Workers should be viewed as internal customers who can give organisations a competitive advantage but only if they are armed with the right digital solutions. Robots are only one facet of the future of the workplace. People and change are the other two. Each organisation will need to find the right balance between technology, people and change in order to achieve excellence in their digital workforce.

Digital workforce is providing the workforce with new ways of working and digital solutions to make their work easier, faster, more flexible and more engaging, and ensuring the workforce embraces the digital environment. As part of our Digital Journey offering, Moorhouse helps organisations reach excellence in their digital workforce. 

We will continue examining each of the four core areas of a future digital ecosystem introduced in our previous perspective. Our next perspective will be on Digital Customer. 

Authored by Indi Kalirai, Nikita Knyazev, and Don McShee.

1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kylesmith/2011/07/28/what-were-gandhis-views-on-capitalism/#3ba455f27473
2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-12/tech-upheaval-means-a-massacre-of-the-dilberts-carney-says
3.  James Bessen, “Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth” (2015)
4. https://www.theguardian.com/do-your-thing/2018/nov/27/what-will-the-workplace-of-the-future-look-like
5. https://go.forrester.com/blogs/your-people-problem-with-emerging-technology-and-innovation/
6. https://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3879581
7. https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2018/06/the-workplace-of-the-future/
8. Oswald, Andrew J. , Proto, Eugenio and Sgroi, Daniel. (2015) Happiness and productivity. Journal of Labor Economics, 33 (4). pp. 789-822.

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