Insight: Taking a collaborative approach to automation in the workplace
By Marco Comastri, General Manager, EMEA at CA Technologies
From online grocer Ocado’s prototype robotic arm which collects hard-to-reach items from supermarket shelves, to devices like FoldiMate that help with tasks around the home, automated technologies are becoming an ever more common feature of our day-to-day lives.
Despite the remarkable new possibilities these advances unlock, as General Manager of CA Technologies EMEA, I know that automation is a divisive topic. For many people, the term has become linked to fears of a world without work in which humans are displaced by robots.
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Emotions and instincts aside, however, there is no reason to assume our working lives will be negatively impacted by the growing role of artificial intelligence.
Much like the industrial revolutions that came before it, it is my belief that if business and political leaders make the right decisions now, this current period of transformation has the potential to make work more meaningful for everyone.
A new approach to work
It’s impossible to ignore the dramatic headlines about the number of jobs that will be replaced by automation. Estimates as to how it will impact the global job market suggest that anywhere from nine to fifty percent of current jobs will cease to exist. However, these wildly varying estimates not only show little consensus, but they also do not paint the full picture.
Yes, almost all of today’s jobs have some aspect that can be automated by current technology – but very few jobs will disappear altogether. Recent McKinsey research suggests about 60 percent of all occupations have around 30 percent of constituent activities that can be automated.
What’s more, this automation will be introduced in waves. In an analysis of over 200,000 existing jobs across 29 countries, PWC suggests the first ‘algorithmic’ wave of automation will affect just 3 percent of jobs, and that the more comprehensive second and third waves – leading up to roughly 30 percent automation – will only take place by the mid-2030s.
Towards a collaborative future
In reality, the biggest change in the age of automation will be new working models built around human-machine collaboration.
As robots take over some routine tasks, human workers can move into newly created roles in disciplines such as robotic engineering and data analytics, as well as roles that require our unique qualities such as creativity, initiative, leadership and teamwork.
In the field of healthcare, for example, companies like Innoplexus are using artificial intelligence to generate data-driven insights that help to diagnose and treat diseases. By making decisions faster and with greater accuracy, these technologies enable nurses and doctors to spend more time focusing on patient care.
Enabling robots to collaborate with humans significantly amplifies the value they provide, and this collaboration has become a key focus for leading players in the robotics field.
At CA Technologies, we recently partnered on a collaborative robotics – or “cobotics” – project with Tampere University of Technology and Tieto in Finland to explore how to make these emerging human-to-robot workflows as safe, secure and effective as possible.
The reskilling revolution
All of these developments underline that human skills will continue to have a pivotal role in the modern workplace. However, in order for this potential to be realised, business and political leaders must act now to ensure workers have the right skills to meet these future challenges.
Specifically, there should be a greater focus on upskilling and reskilling programmes. This discussion was front and centre at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, resulting in the launch of a new IT Industry Skills Initiative.
Built around a free platform of online tools called SkillSET, the aim of the initiative is to reach one million people with resources and training opportunities by 2021. I am incredibly proud that CA Technologies joined other industry leaders as a founding partner of this initiative.
From general introductions to digital literacy to more advanced topics like big data and cybersecurity, this united effort has created a centralised portal of training tools for those whose roles may be impacted by technology.
New resources like this are an important first step towards empowering global workers to unlock the opportunities of this new era – but there is much more work to do. From cobotics projects to upskilling initiatives, government and industry ties must be strengthened to accelerate the rate of progress.
Let’s not forget, the future of work is in our hands. Artificial intelligence is the latest in a long line of remarkable developments designed and delivered by humans. By making the right policy and business decisions now, we can ensure the benefits of this new innovation extend to everyone.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”