Insight: Taking a collaborative approach to automation in the workplace

By Marco Comastri

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.


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