‘Knowledge work’ refers to jobs which depend primarily on the individual’s ability to work with information. In recent years, there’s been growing concern that the automation of knowledge work will cause ‘damage’ to those workers. The argument states that a wide range of jobs, from manufacturing to journalism to accounting, could potentially be taken over by artificial intelligence and robots.
However, despite the doom-mongering headlines about the automation of knowledge work, most professionals working in this part of the economy are generally positive about its potential. One recent survey found that 97% of knowledge workers believe automation could benefit their workplaces, and nearly 60% said they could save over six hours per week if repetitive tasks were automated.
The reality is that most knowledge workers are open to the idea of automating parts of their jobs, and to the technology that will support this.
For example, if a machine could take on a knowledge worker’s data entry tasks, help them avoid recreating documents they’d made before or even just chase colleagues to complete tasks, it seems safe to assume most workers would embrace that wholeheartedly. Put simply, automation allows you more time to work on creative, high value and intellectually stimulating work.
So, what would the automation of knowledge work look like in practice?
A huge amount of a knowledge worker’s time is spent creating documents, then getting his or her colleagues to approve them. From press releases to internal guidelines to proposals, workers are regularly asking colleagues to review and approve the content in these files.
Typically, employees will make a copy of the document, then attach it to an email and send this to colleagues, who may make changes and send them back. Or, alternatively, forward the document on to other colleagues. Before long, multiple versions of the document are circling around the office, people become confused, and the original creator is unsure who has seen the document and what they’ve done with it.
Say you created a press release for your new product and stored the draft in your company’s Box storage environment. Automation would allow you kick-start a document approval process that would be smoother and more efficient than the manual alternative, saving you countless hours chasing colleagues for the press release’s approval:
Knowledge workers need to review invoices to ensure details and pricing are correct and line up with what was originally agreed. When this process is manual, it can be time-consuming and inefficient. Staff need to hunt through emails and document storage platforms, and liaise with internal and external partners to ascertain if the services or goods received are equivalent to the final amount on the invoice.
Say your company decided to sponsor an event. When making payments, you would want to ensure that all the features and perks offered by the events company’s salespeople were delivered on. Automating the review process would be highly beneficial here:
When we hear about the automation of knowledge work, there’s often a tendency to see the impact as negative. That’s because the topic can be framed in terms of lost jobs and de-skilling human workers.
However, when we look closer, it’s clear that most knowledge workers are open to the idea of automating less than exciting manual work and repetitive processes, so they can focus more on creative, high-value work. As the two examples outlined above highlight, automation in the knowledge work sector is about improving processes and saving people a lot of time.
A better way to think about the automation of knowledge work is to focus on the time saved, which allows knowledge workers to do their best work, actual knowledge work.
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Nintex is the world’s leader in intelligent process automation (IPA) with more than 7,500 enterprise clients and 1,700 partners in 90 countries who have built and published millions of workflow applications. With its unmatched breadth of capability and platform support delivered by unique architectural capabilities, Nintex empowers the line of business and IT departments to quickly automate, orchestrate and optimize hundreds of manual processes to progress on the journey to digital transformation. Nintex Workflow Cloud®, the company’s cloud platform, connects with all content repositories, systems of record, and people to consistently fuel successful business outcomes.