The technologies that power process automation and artificial intelligence capabilities offer a great many business benefits. When enterprises harness these tools effectively, they’re able to control operational costs, reduce risk, elevate productivity levels, and create exceptional customer experiences. But what’s the price of progress? Does intelligent automation represent a threat or an opportunity for the human workforce?
Research conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute found that almost every role that exists today will be impacted by automation. This may seem unsettling at first, but it’s important to understand the whole picture. The study went on to reveal that only a very small percentage (around 5%) of these occupations can be 100% automated by existing technologies. This means that the vast majority of the jobs currently performed by people will still require human input.
Drilling down further, the research team found that around 30% of the activities in 60% of all occupations can be automated. This means that rather than being replaced by a digital workforce, most workers—at every level of the enterprise—will be in a position where they can work alongside smart technologies in supportive, collaborative, or supervisory roles.
Going forward, organizations planning digital transformation projects need to think beyond the technology and consider the impact on staff, as well as the broader human resources strategy.
In the intelligent automation environment, AI capabilities can be integrated into automation platforms to transform processes in unprecedented ways. For example, key advances in AI include machine vision, and the ability to recognize and process speech and language. Using these capabilities, intelligent automation systems can process a greater range of information, including content that’s semi-structured and unstructured.
In this context, many more process steps can be automated; and businesses will need to rethink the human roles in these processes to ensure every resource—human and digital—is being used optimally. At the same time, employees must be open to learning new skills and taking on new responsibilities.
Visionary company leaders could encourage their people to view AI and automation in a positive light. This technology is not necessarily there to replace them, but rather to support them. Human-machine collaboration can be very beneficial for employees. When workflows are well-orchestrated, business process managers can delegate monotonous, rule-based tasks to software robots; and complex data analysis or processing tasks to AI-enabled tools, for instance.
This gives employees more time to focus on the process steps that require their unique human capabilities. For example, humans could shift into supervisory roles where they focus on managing automated systems and handling exceptions to the rule. This way, every resource is optimized.
Human skills to nurture
There are many human skills that are likely to hold their value as workplaces become increasingly digitally enabled. These include capabilities that will allow organizations to gain greater value from the technologies they invest in, as well as skills that machines are not (yet) able to emulate.
The human skills that will be in demand going forward include:
- Advanced technological skills, to drive tech innovation and ease the adoption of new digital tools as these emerge
- Basic digital skills, which enable everyday business users to gain maximum value from modern automation tools
- Social and emotional skills—traditionally known as “soft skills”
- Higher cognitive skills, which enable people to think creatively, strategically, and/or innovatively
Managing the flow of work between humans and machines
We believe that the next wave of automation—known as intelligent automation—needs to focus on combining the key capabilities of all the organization’s resources. These include process automation solutions like robotic process automation (RPA), technologies with AI capabilities, the existing line of business systems, and human resources.
One way to facilitate this collaborative approach is to design and manage processes on one central platform. A low-code application development platform like Nintex K2 provides enterprises with all the tools they need to design process applications and workflows, integrate multiple technology solutions, and monitor progress to ensure that every resource is always put to optimum use.
Teams can easily design their own workflows to seamlessly coordinate the flow of tasks, data, and other resources between humans, software robots, AI agents, and other systems. This makes it much easier for companies to adapt employees’ roles and responsibilities, within a structured environment, when new technologies are introduced.
New technologies, new possibilities
Looking back on previous industrial revolutions, it’s clear that technological innovation does disrupt existing occupations. However, this can be viewed as a time to create new employment opportunities for people who are willing to learn new skills or sharpen existing ones.
Going forward, AI and automation technologies will work together to transform the way that many different types of businesses operate—and humans can play a valuable, collaborative role in this transformation journey.