Automation and changing needs, featuring Forrester

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In an ever-changing world, the future of work is changing as well, and it has accelerated some areas of automation that we were already moving toward. I sat down with our guest speaker, Leslie Joseph, Principal Analyst Serving Application Development and Delivery at Forrester Research, for a webinar to discuss these questions and get a better understanding around how automation plays an important role in supporting companies through crises and preparing them for an uncertain future. Below is a brief Q&A with some practical advice on how to power the future of work through automation.

What does the future of work look like?

Ultimately, the future of work entails an adaptive, burstable workforce consisting of a core of employees supplemented by digital workers and AI. In this model, employees will find their day-to-day tasks improved and simplified by the assistance of machine intelligence and automation, which will ideally provide more balance and better quality of life for workforces.

Most will not lose their jobs because of this shift, but employees will have to adapt to working with machines, and likely becoming a machine manager of sorts. Software performs a majority of the maintenance, but these machine managers will handle any exceptions and act as a subject matter expert to continuously improve the machine’s performance.

Over time, the combination of human ingenuity and automation can create a new wave of prosperity for organizations, including the opportunity to create new jobs that are focused on managing machines and becoming experts on automation.

What about the post-pandemic automation landscape?

COVID-19 has reshaped the automation landscape, and we see this in organizations increasing reliance on digital technologies and automation to support remote workforces and business continuity.

These technologies will impact workers differently across organizations. Cubicle workers, along with coordinators and lower-level knowledge workers will find their jobs rapidly impacted by machine-learning-based document capture and text analytics. Knowledge workers, on the other hand, will not benefit as much from automation but will not see their jobs disrupted either.

Where is the average company at with their automation journey?

Forrester’s data suggests that only 18% of employees have clarity on their career paths in the age of AI and automation. Just 22% of global workers agree that their leaders have proven to be flexible in the face of new conditions or challenges related to technology, and less than 15% of employees agree that their company has an automation center of excellence.

However, preparing for the future of work is not just about implementing robotics and AI technology. Leaders will need to apply systems thinking to understand how skill requirements, leadership attributes, organizational culture and design, and trust in automation must evolve for their organization to thrive in the future of work.

If companies are behind in their adoption of automation technology, what can they do to stay competitive and get ahead as they retool themselves?

Organizations that already have investments in digital will be ahead, but this doesn’t mean that others should feel left out. Companies should implement a three-step approach to automation:

  • Step 1: Identify low hanging fruit that can serve as strong automation candidates. This could include back-office processes in areas such as finance and accounting, HR, or procurement. Forrester’s ‘rule of five’ for process selection suggests that an ideal candidate process for automation is one that has less than five decisions, under five applications to interface with, and below five hundred unique actions (i.e. mouse clicks and keystrokes).
  • Step 2: Create an inventory of the processes within the organization that are potential candidates for digitization and automation. Build out pragmatic business cases for digitizing these processes based on cost, risk, and impact on customer experience, and build a prioritized roadmap towards ongoing digitization and automation of these processes.
  • Step 3: Begin investing in the intangibles, and build your Robotics Quotient by investing in people, leadership, organizational structures such as automation centers of excellence or automation strike teams, and in fostering a culture of trust in automation. These intangibles will determine how successfully you manage to scale your automation program.

Perhaps your organization has already adapted to automation and has excelled throughout this period of remote work, or maybe your company is moving a little slowly on its journey. Although it takes time, preparing for the future of work in this crucial moment will benefit your organization and give you the tools to evolve. It’s not too late to make this new landscape work for you and enjoy the benefits that follow when human ingenuity and automation work together.

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