My boss is a robot: the future of automation
A robot-driven future is closer than we think. According to Gartner’s “Top Predictions for IT Organisations and Users for 2016 and Beyond”, more than three million workers globally will have robo-boss supervision by 2018. Initially performing monitoring and supervisory functions, these robo-bosses will eventually undertake logical staffing decisions. Also by 2018, there will be six billion “things” connected to the internet, seeking out other businesses and performing digital transactions, automating processes and providing a wealth of data to streamline, improve and enhance the way we do business. Of these six billion devices connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT) and generating data, two million of them will be health-and-fitness tracking devices that employees will be required to wear as a condition of employment.
While this not-so-distant picture of our future sounds intimidating and potentially scary for humans, it will have a positive impact from a business and personal perspective. While it will be hard for humans to adapt at first, the benefits will far outweigh the potential negatives.
Automation is imminent
Gartner’s predictions for the IT realm have been molded by our increasing acceptance of artificial intelligence (both in the business and consumer sectors) and the growing popularity of wearables.
Automation, analytics and the IoT have already begun to combine and usher in an age of total digitisation for business. Given that most organisations are customer-facing, whether corporate, retail or individual businesses, digitisation will have the effect of providing real-time information. This will be achieved through analytics (about what a user is doing on web and mobile channels) offering more information about the customer than what is already on record. Organisations will obtain information about their customers’ experience, behaviour and spending patterns.
By adding automation to the mix, organisations can remove the need for manual human intervention in the consumer’s online activities. Through the creation of environments that are automatically aware of receiving these data points, it is possible for these smart systems to create next best action or next best offer. This could include providing customers with coupons and incentives to purchase, through the delivery of direct, targeted campaigns. In this way, businesses can benefit from being able to monetise data, increase revenue, boost loyalty, prolong retention and create a better customer experience.
Industries that are not directly consumer-orientated, will also benefit from automation, analytics and the IoT. For instance, in industries like oil and gas, upstream business processes occur that include an element of risk. Temperature and pressure sensors provide information about the environment and acidity of the oil which can be used to pre-empt breakages or failures. They can be used positively for just-in-time warehouse inventory and to alert management about the conditions of machinery, without the need for human intervention. Before a failure occurs, replacements can be ordered and implemented without breaking any component of the oil processing line. From that perspective, businesses can benefit from zero downtime, reduced costs and operations that are extremely efficient and reliable.
In 2018 Gartner predicts that robo-bosses will have begun to infiltrate the workplace. At first, they will be doing simple things, like attendance checks and performance monitoring through certain sets of algorithms that observe activities and provide reports. Manual intervention will still be necessary as a human brain and touch cannot yet be replaced, but at the same time these robo-bosses will keep a close eye on activities and identify abnormal behaviour. When it comes to employee appraisals, the process will be similar. Based on activities, (such as sales-generation and lead-generation activities), all data can be sent through an algorithm to produce a performance index, which will deliver an accurate, if somewhat un-feeling, performance appraisal. In this way, robo-bosses will at first play a role of monitoring or supervision and the training process will be automated. What about further on down the line? The possibilities are endless. We might see a robot replacing the CEO of a company.
It’s undeniable that this will impact employee headcounts - in some parts of the world this has already begun. Even this has a positive aspect, given that the impact of robo-workers will be felt in industries that are hazardous and areas that are dangerous, such as minefields in war-torn countries that need to be cleared for human safety. Furthermore, it gives rise to upskilling, enabling employees to master a new skillset that results in self-development and improvement.
Wearing the future
Wearable technology is making an impact on our lives and these devices gather lots of data about the wearer. They may seem invasive initially, but these devices can be used for security purposes, much like access cards. They can also be used positively in hazardous environments, to provide information about the location and health vitals of an injured wearer. The benefits to both employer and employee are so significant that Gartner predicts that wearing such a device will be a condition of employment for two million people by 2018.
The big question is this: what are the pros and cons of these data-driven, analytics-based technologies, from a human perspective? The answer is simple. Right now, we’re surrounded by data. There are upsides to this. Data can be used to inform and automate our interactions with customers and transform our business processes. On the other hand, given the high volume of transactions taking place every minute, there is always the danger that these transactions can be hacked.
Regardless of the pros and cons; generating data and leveraging it appropriately can provide information about a situation or environment, allowing it to be rectified. The pros far outweigh the cons, once we accept that harnessing the power of data is the future, in any industry.
Rudraksh Bhawalkar is a Practice Manager at Wipro, a global information technology, consulting and outsourcing company. Bhawalkar is based in Johannesburg and heads Wipro's analytics engagement in sub-Saharan Africa. He has previously worked at Dow Jones an Shell Oil.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are the writer's and his employer does not subscribe to the substance or veracity of my views