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Automation Part 2: Your First Robot Employee

Automation in the workplace will have many forms. The rise of AI could usher in new businesses processes that need little human input. In a world of automation, will businesses be able to integrate these systems with their workforces?

* This story was originally published on Silicon UK by David Howell

The first part of this series covered the expanding use of automation across the business landscape. We took a broad overview of the current state of these technologies. This second part looks at the practical implications of automation and, how a business needs to be ready to take advantage of these systems. Says Neil Murphy, Global VP at ABBYY: “British businesses are missing out on the benefits of automation by not combining the right technologies. Using just one or two types of automation without integrating the tech that will help achieve your goals is at best short-sighted, and at worst, a waste of time and money. “While automated systems and AI come out as the most popular forms of automation, RPA is the least adopted, with only 24% of UK businesses investing in the technology,” Murphy continued. “However, RPA is bringing unparalleled benefits: RPA is particularly strong on time to ROI – 82% of businesses saw a return on their RPA investment within a year, with 30% seeing a return of at least twice what they invested. Some 19 in 20 businesses have deployed some form of automation. Still, only 1 in 20 uses the full stack, meaning most companies are missing out on the ‘secret weapons’ that could deliver the most ROI for their business.” Murphy concluded: “The banking and financial services sector leads the way, with 38% of businesses investing in RPA, while manufacturing comes in second place with 23%. Some sectors have barely dipped their toe, with the legal profession, for example, only seeing 6% adoption. This is despite the huge opportunities RPA brings: a majority of RPA adopters saw improved efficiency (55%), getting ahead of the competition/increasing their market share (52%), and revenue growth (52%), with productivity gains (44%) and business transformation (40%) also realized.” There is little doubt that every enterprise no matter its size will be touched by automation. Business owners can see the potential cost savings and efficiency gains when more automated systems are deployed. The challenge is to choose the right systems for the proper context and, implement these services to support workforces without undue disruption. Trusting a robot It has become somewhat an urban myth that robotics will invade the workplace to a similar disruptive level last seen during the Luddite protests against the mechanization of textile machinery. It’s unlikely workers today would destroy robots and other automated systems, but the feeling of displacement is real for many employees. However, research from Oracle and Future Workplace – a research firm preparing leaders for disruptions in recruiting, development and employee engagement, who quizzed 8,370 employees, managers and HR leaders across ten countries, found that AI has changed the relationship between people and technology at work and is reshaping the role HR teams and managers need to play in attracting, retaining and developing talent. AI is becoming more prominent with 50% of workers currently using some form of AI at work compared to only 32% the previous year. Workers in China (77%) and India (78%) have adopted AI over two-times more than those in France (32%) and Japan (29%). Workers in India (60%) and China (56%) are the most excited about AI, followed by the UAE (44%), Singapore (41%), Brazil (32%, Australia/New Zealand (26%), Japan (25%), US (22%), UK (20%) and France (8%). The majority (65%) of workers are optimistic, excited and grateful about having robot co-workers and nearly a quarter report having a loving and gratifying relationship with AI at work. Men have a more positive view of AI at work than women, with 32% of men optimistic versus 23% of women. What is more startling about this study is that over half (64%) of people would trust a robot more than their manager and half have turned to a robot instead of their manager for advice. More men (56%) than women (44%) have turned to AI over their managers. And 82% of people think robots can do things better than their managers.

Emily He, SVP, Human Capital Management Cloud Business Group, Oracle.

“As this study shows, the relationship between humans and machines is being redefined at work, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully managing this change,” said Emily He, SVP, Human Capital Management Cloud Business Group, Oracle. “Instead, organizations need to partner with their HR organization to personalize the approach to implementing AI at work to meet the changing expectations of their teams around the world.”

Education is key to ensuring automated systems are implemented and embraced by employees. Emphasizing how robotics and automation can be an aid is the core argument to make when deploying even small-scale automation systems.

Digital employees

The Oracle report also revealed 76% of workers and 81% of HR leaders find it challenging to keep up with the pace of technological changes in the workplace. Workers want a simplified experience with AI at work, asking for a better user interface (34%), best practice training (30%) and an experience that is personalized to their behaviour (30%).

Security (31%) and privacy (30%) are the main concerns preventing workers from using AI at work. Digital natives Gen Z (43%) and Millennials (45%) are more concerned about privacy and security at work than Gen X (29%) and Baby Boomers (23%).

“Over the past two years we’ve found that workers have become more optimistic as they’ve adopted AI in the workplace and HR is leading the way,” said Dan Schawbel, Research Director at Future Workplace. “The 2019 study shows that AI is redefining not only the relationship between worker and manager but also the role of a manager in an AI-driven workplace. Based on the findings, managers will remain relevant in the future if they focus on being human and using their soft skills while leaving the technical skills and routine tasks to robots.”

A clear indicator that automation is moving to the next level of its development is Amelia from IPsoft. The avatar is designed to deliver the visual elements of human interaction – conversation, expression, emotion and understanding – to everyday user experiences, driving deeper customer connections and more significant business value.

Amelia’s deep learning capabilities also allow her to continuously learn from human interactions and create even more engaging experiences over time. Her ability to observe, learn, understand and improve her skills permits her to surpass standard digital assistants, elevating her into the world’s most human-like digital employee.

By deploying Amelia’s new avatar, enterprises will now be able to engage with users using human-like digital representatives, powered by sophisticated conversational AI technology. Internally, Amelia-powered solutions can translate into higher employee satisfaction and engagement, leading to a more productive workforce. Among external customers, Amelia’s avatar can build stronger brand loyalty, encourage repeat business, and drive new sources of revenue.

“We have spent the last 20 years developing the most human-like digital being. Understanding the important role that visual cues play in human interaction, we are delighted to launch Amelia’s new avatar that will enable companies to digitally connect with their customers like never before,” said Chetan Dube, founder and CEO of IPsoft. “Amelia’s new look also far better reflects her superior cognitive abilities as the most advanced digital employee on the market.”

Which areas of their businesses to deploy automation to is an important decision to make. Customer-facing systems seem the ideal option, but this must be done carefully to protect brand integrity. Automating internal systems are more likely to deliver the rewards expected.

Darren Fields, Vice President UK and Ireland, Citrix.

Darren Fields, Vice President UK and Ireland, Citrix told Silicon UK: “Although some futurists may imagine a future of fully automated and digitalized business environments, a more realistic scenario is one of humans and their robotic colleagues working side by side. Business leaders should see automation as a support to their workforce because automating task-oriented work will create new, higher-skilled jobs. Far from being our enemy, AI is much more likely to be much-needed support in the workplace.

Fields concluded: “Business leaders will see a lot of manual, repetitive work being automated by robots. Even though according to the OECD, nearly half of current jobs will be replaced by automation, this is only half the story. On the plus side, the new technology keeps creating new jobs, and even whole new labour categories. In fact, the OECD states that 40% of the jobs created between 2005 and 2016 were created in digitally-intensive industries, showing that automation is an advantage.”

It’s becoming abundantly clear that automation is not a replacement technology – far from it. The most successful implementations of automated systems support their human operatives. Working alongside and with the support of automated systems and services is the way forward for most businesses. As automated systems evolve, so will their use cases.

Silicon in Focus

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP UK.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director at ADP UK.

Why are businesses being slow to equip their workforces for the inevitable automation that they will be working alongside?

Adapting to new technology in the workplace can be a lengthy process that requires commitment from all stakeholders. Introducing new technology requires employees to adapt and learn new skills, which can be challenging, and this demands collaboration from all parties involved. Often, there can be push back from some employees – and employers – who worry that change will hinder, rather than accelerate progress. Automation cannot be introduced in a top-down way, or employees will push back against this innovation.

Do workers feel their skills are out-of-date and make them prime candidates for replacement by automated systems?

Broadly I’ve observed three groups: Firstly, some see changing technology as an opportunity to embrace. Secondly, those who are concerned about the impact technology may have but are not sure what to do, and finally, a group who are somewhat in denial or resisting it, as they want to maintain the status quo.

These groupings are typical for any significant change and education is critical. I worry that some leaders or organizations may see this as a generational issue, risking age discrimination. In my experience, this is an error, as indeed some of the most adaptive people and best teachers are those who have gained wisdom from the experience of prior industry or technology advances.

How do business leaders see automation? Are these systems to support their workforces, or as replacements?

I think too many businesses see automation as a way to improve margins. That may be true, but it is only one benefit, and others can be the improvement of customer service and enabling skilled and intelligent people to increase the time they spend on value creation.

Have you ever met anyone who looks forward to doing their expenses? It’s easy to fear automation because we are immediately drawn to what it will replace, without yet knowing what we will create, but the human race has a long history of doing just that. From a technical perspective, how are CTOs and CIOs generally approaching automation across their businesses or organizations?

It seems that every organization has a “digital transformation” programme. My view is that much of what these encompass is a progression from computerization, which has been going on for many years.

Tools used for RPA (robotic process automation) have their roots in client-server technology, which was used over twenty years ago to give a new look and feel to “green screen” mainframe systems. I’m not convinced there is anything genuinely radical going on, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not exciting, and the rate of change certainly appears to be accelerating.

CIOs and CTOs are working to support their businesses by reducing costs and increasing business value. Automation offers a way to extend the life of older or disparate systems without the need for a radical overhaul of technology, and it also allows work to be taken out by the business or clients.

From an innovative perspective, machine learning and automation offer the potential to massively reduce the time to analyze data, reduce human errors, and make discoveries in design and medicine that humans may miss or taken an age to arrive at.

Is the fact that the UK is dominated by the services sector, make the UK’s workforce more prone to automation?

Automation is an enabler, not an outcome. If your question is whether I believe automation offers huge potential to the services sector, I would absolutely claim that to be the case. But here’s the thing: too many of us feel that the services we encounter today lack sufficient personalization and the “human touch”.

Automation will enable that by assisting large scale customization and freeing humans for creativity and interaction that will increase value and loyalty. Of course, this does create challenges with how personal data is used, but that’s a whole new set of questions.

What is your essential advice to business to ensure they can take advantage of automation without damaging their workforces?

This starts with trust. If you already have a great culture of trust then be open with employees – talk to them about the possibilities, the risks, the dangers of not acting and the timescales. Tell them what you know and what you don’t know and, invite them to be part of the journey as they have been on the journey until this point.

People want you to be honest with them, to be respected and deserving of an explanation. When I’ve treated people this way, I have been astounded about how they have risen to the challenge. However, if your organization lacks that open culture and there is not a high degree of psychological safety, this could be a difficult path to tread.

I imagine there will be some businesses that will impose change with limited regard for the human consequences. There may be some cases where that will work, but in a world where we are fighting to find and retain the best people, it’s definitely not a strategy I would take or advocate.

Don’t believe the hype! Many of the people and companies dominating the press and talking up the impacts and benefits of automation have a vested interest in doing so to sell their software or services. The benefits are often best-case scenarios or, use particular use cases that work particularly well. For most of us, the world, our jobs, and our clients are more complex. Maybe that’s a good thing!

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