Don’t Fear the Robot: The Human Consequences of Automation

6th December, 2021.      //   Technology  // 

Why Automation Won't Replace Humans | Built InHumans versus robots. Us versus them.

The growing use of software-based robots to help with tasks that don’t need human intelligence or are so dull they’re demotivating has engendered fear among some employees that they’ll be replaced. Although it’s easy to understand where these negative feelings come from, it’s time to redefine this relationship and turn the battle into a partnership. We need to see robots for what they have the potential to be: friend, not foe.

In situations where humans and digital workers collaborate, an opportunity exists to achieve greater efficiencies, increased revenue, and — contrary to current perceptions — more satisfied and productive employees. In fact, according to the latest Intelligent Automation Benchmark Study Kofax conducted, 95 percent of respondents believe that manual processes are the most common challenge companies face. As organizations join forces with machines to automate processes, employees will be able to focus their attention on areas that matter most, rather than troubleshooting manual problems.

Although the results of automation can often speak for themselves, organizations looking to realize these gains can aid their cause by adopting a new perspective when it comes to how employees view robots and automation. Accomplishing this shift all starts with changing the conversation.

Rebranding: Meet ‘Human-Assisted Automation’

Companies rebrand themselves all the time. Though we typically think of this process involving a new name (remember when Rebel dropped the “Sport”?) or a new logo and image (think Uber), there’s no reason organizations can’t rebrand an internal process.

Automation is no longer the new kid on the block, and the events of last year promoted many businesses to shift to intelligent automation. In fact, 73 percent of respondents in a recent Deloitte survey said their company started down the path to intelligent automation in 2020, and the move is paying off. Though current events forced companies to very quickly adopt digital processes into their business models, many organizations were already on this path to becoming more efficient with machine assisted automation.

Likewise, an Accenture report discovered that 7 percent of organizations that moved to future-ready technologies like intelligent automation saw profitability jump by 5.8 percentage points and experienced efficiency gains of 18.8 percent. With the help of automation, these businesses are seeing improved ROI and higher levels of maturity than their peers.

But our engagement with intelligent automation is not just about technological advancement. To move to the next level of maturity and unlock the full potential of intelligent automation, organizations must change the way we talk about and perceive our relationships with machines. This dynamic is no longer about striking the right balance between humans and robots or taking a “human versus robot” mentality.

Future-ready companies put humans at the forefront of all their operations. Ultimately, only humans’ critical thinking can accomplish a company’s goals. Moreover, people can be deployed creatively and flexibly to meet business priorities in ways that digital workers can’t.

Rebranding automation as “human-assisted automation” enables employees to drive creativity and guide the systems in continuous learning, creating what Deloitte has referred to as “superteams.” These superteams are groups of people and intelligent machines working together to solve problems, gain insights, and create value.

One of the first steps in this rebranding effort is to assess the impact of intelligent automation on your people. Have their tasks and daily routines changed? Deloitte discovered 58 percent of organizations implementing and scaling automation have failed to conduct this type of analysis, so there’s work to be done.

Time-tracking tools can record how much time employees are spending on tasks before and after automation. The results will show how much time you can save by automating repetitive, manual tasks such as data entry and where staff members are able to redirect their time. You can also conduct surveys to assess how employees’ daily routines have changed as a result of automation.

Companies should focus on honing skills like critical thinking among their people by teaching them to question assumptions, reason through logic and diversify thought. These skills are uniquely human and can’t be performed by a robot. People then become the main actor on the stage with technology playing a supporting role.

Superteams to the Rescue

Human-robot superteams can pay dividends for organizations and their people in a range of business units. Take accounts payable (AP), for example. Few, if any, accountants would pine for the days when their jobs involved shuffling actual pieces of paper from the in-tray to the out-tray. Now, intelligent automation technology captures invoices no matter what channel they come from and uses artificial intelligence to determine where the right information is on each invoice. Even better, because the entire AP workflow is automated, an easy-to-follow data trail exists for auditing purposes.

This means AP teams no longer waste time manually processing invoices. These invoices are handled faster with fewer errors, and people only need to step in when more complex thinking is required. At the same time, a human in the loop flags the problem anytime an AI misses data off an invoice so it will know to capture the data next time. This is a great, mutually beneficial relationship in which people teach the AI to be smarter, in turn helping people focus on more strategic and fulfilling tasks.

Note that none of this automation means AP team members aren’t busy. In fact, AP can finally step into the boardroom, providing executives with deeper insight into cash flow, working capital, payment optimization and budget monitoring. In the end, these types of superteams give human team members the opportunity to perform work that’s much more valuable and rewarding, both to their organization and to themselves.

Robots Build More Human Interactions

Being able to collect and harness information about customers can have a massive impact on an organization’s profitability, with research from Gartner showing that more organizations with positive revenue growth (80 percent) collect more customer experience (CX) data than those that are non-growth companies (58 percent). The trend among these growth companies is to use this CX data for activities such as surveys, focus groups, analytics and usability testing.

And no wonder. For instance, there’s nothing more frustrating than dealing with customer service and having to repeat your situation with each new interaction or customer rep. Thanks to intelligent automation, though, companies can digitize and classify documents in real time and give customer service reps instant access to data in any application so they can answer questions quickly and accurately.

Similarly, mobile capture and e-signature tools allow customers and suppliers to upload documents for faster onboarding without the need for employees to get involved. The same goes for loan and claims processing. Intelligent automation streamlines the process end-to-end through AI, digital workflows and robotic process automation.

This makes for a better experience for every person involved. Customers love the ease and speed of mobile-friendly onboarding, and end-to-end automation of customer workflows saves employees from the monotonous tasks that bore them and slow the process down. Instead, agents and sales reps are free to focus their time on more complex customer queries that require a human touch (or voice) to resolve. When your people are armed with a real-time view of customer data, they can solve problems faster, and maximize cross-sell and upsell opportunities. Customers receive better service, and employees benefit from more engaging work that supports and adds to revenue streams.

Technology has a long history of eliminating drudgery. Who among us would want to wash clothes with a washing board and wringer? Intelligent automation is the next step in human-assisted automation with people in the driver’s seat. The friendship between a more agile, skilled human workforce and intelligent robots will produce a superteam that can increase revenue, drive efficiency, and make for a more fulfilled workplace.

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