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How artificial intelligence will drive the future of workforce automation

Futurists and science fiction writers have always looked ahead to predict how machines could augment the way people live and work. Still, a future where technology fully replaces physical work is distant, but it’s no surprise that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a bit of a buzzword among technology and business circles lately. The topic of AI often generates strong reactions, with proponents who note its boundless potential reach and others who see it as a nadir for the global workforce. However, industries across the board have noted the potential of AI and how it will impact enterprises at the core.

According to Narrative Science, 44 per cent of executives believe artificial intelligence’s most important benefit is ‘automated communications that provide data that can be used to make decisions’. For business environments, many tasks are already being performed through the automated functions of intelligent machines, such as scheduling, report compilations and invoice tracking. Other sectors, such as customer support and manufacturing (particularly in assembly and machining), are no longer prioritising the need for actual employees to accomplish their business objectives. Though many of these jobs require extensive training and expertise, many of the tasks are repetitive, which can, in the end, be completed by machines.

As a concept, artificial intelligence is designed to analyse and transform data into humanised formats that are easy to digest and act upon, without needing to be prompted. Today, automated processes are an essential part of not only workplace computing, but common business processes as well. Any enterprise that fosters an information-driven, social, and mobile culture creates an engaged workforce that contributes to the bottom line of modern management.   

A threat to jobs?

Losing jobs to technology isn’t a new concept - it is a fact of the workforce and a sign of the times. Though anticipation of AI coming into widespread use is still in its infancy, there will always be a healthy debate on the potential effects effect on jobs. Emerging technologies can improve the speed, quality and value for goods and services, but the fear is that they may also displace large numbers of workers. Increased productivity is the common goal for any competitive enterprise, and for business, the benefits of automation are clear: allow for tasks to be completed faster in a way that is cost-effective and error-free.

However, advances in technology have long represented a serious threat to many jobs that are ordinarily performed by workers. According to Gartner, customers will manage 85 per cent of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human by the year 2020. By then, AI, automated software and connected networks will become much more sophisticated and capable with both positive and negative implications for jobs the overall economy.

The amount of computerisation necessary to take over these jobs will be dependent on how well these fields adapt to new technology, how much they’re willing to pay for it and benchmark the effect it has on productivity. Although AI can take on more routine duties and even impact human decision-making, it cannot cover all of the bases. The application of human expertise to critical business decisions and practices when the information available is insufficient to suggest a successful course of action or reliable enough to suggest an obvious best course of action.

There are several machine learning and application program interfaces (API) on the market, such as Microsoft Azure and Google Prediction API, that allow for users to determine the sentiment of conversations, functions and complexity of some tasks. However, these applications are utilised as supplemental assistants and are seen as non-threatening to individual jobs or the workforce at large. As long as there are jobs that require a degree of human involvement, there will always be room for people to continue to hold them. Because of this, AI will likely not affect job security. Instead, it will likely influence the relationship between employees and how they use technology, more specifically, to remain productive and replace mundane aspects of their duties. 

Productive relationship between people and machines

Technology is the primary driver of productivity improvements, and many organisations have implemented some level of automation to help execute their processes. However, top performers are more likely to have implemented a solution that enables businesses to own and organise the development of their own workflows. AI not only presents opportunities for creating high value opportunities but also new ways for executives and managers to maximise workplace efficiency, human error and transparency. Automation isn’t just an avenue to streamline tasks - it helps ensure survival in a world that is dependent on different forms of technology.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, experts anticipate that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025. Their study also noted that historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys. AI enables the cost-cutting automation of routine work but can also empower value-adding augmentation of human capabilities. Because interpersonal contact between employees and customers is the key to success, AI for business will eventually shift from coordination to collaboration.

In the current landscape, there are ample workforce technology solutions that can help organisations with workforce management, from timekeeping, to forecasting and analytics. For instance, office administrators and human resources professionals can free up precious time from managing tasks that can easily be automated. Tasks such as scheduling, allocating resources and generating reports across business sectors have typically been reserved for humans but can now fall within the remit of intelligent processes to execute. Employees can equally be empowered to manage their work successfully with little to no supervision. With an automated structure, employees know what is expected of them and what they are accountable for.

Workflow automation also improves compliance and employee accountability through a built-in oversight mechanism. Management can view the actions and determine if any bottlenecks exist without having to interrupt employees and pull them away from their work. Thus, employees become much more efficient and effective in completing their tasks.

Without a doubt, automation has evolved from being a perpetual concept to the future to a competitive necessity. By enabling advancements, AI creates platforms that every enterprise to drive their business goals.

 Jon Lee, entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of ProsperWorks