Intelligent automation is going to impact companies and individuals in profound ways, some of which are not yet foreseeable. Unlike traditional automation, which lacks an AI element, intelligent automation will automate more kinds of tasks in an organization, at all levels within an organization.
As history has shown, rote, repetitive tasks are ripe for automation. Machines can do them faster and more accurately than humans 24/7/365 without getting bored, distracted or fatigued.
When AI and automation are combined for intelligent automation, the picture changes dramatically. With AI, automated systems are not just capable of doing things; they're also capable of making decisions. Unlike manufacturing automation which replaced factory-floor workers with robots, intelligent automation can impact highly-skilled, highly-educated specialists as well as their less-skilled, less-educated counterparts.
Intelligent automation will affect everyone
The non-linear impact of intelligent automation should serve as a wakeup call to everyone in an organization from the C-suite down. Here's why: If the impact of intelligent automation were linear, then the tasks requiring the least skill and education would be automated first and tasks requiring the most skill and education would be automated last. Business leaders could easily understand the trajectory and plan for it accordingly.
However, intelligent automation is impacting industries in a non-linear fashion. For example, legal AI platform provider LawGeex conducted an experiment that was vetted by professors from Duke University School of Law, Stanford University and an independent attorney to determine which could review contracts more accurately: AI or lawyers. In the experiment, 20 lawyers took an average of 92 minutes to review five non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in which there were 30 legal issues to spot. The average accuracy rating was 85%. The AI completed the same task in 26 seconds with a 94% accuracy level. Similar results were achieved in a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). That experiment involved board-certified echocardiographers. In both cases, AI was better than trained experts at pattern recognition.
Interestingly, most jobs involve some rote, repetitive tasks and pattern recognition. CEOs may consider themselves exempt from intelligent automation but Jack Ma, billionaire founder and CEO of ecommerce platform Alibaba disagrees. "AI remembers better than you, it counts faster than you, and it won't be angry with competitors."
What the C-Suite Should Consider
Intelligent automation isn't something that will only affect other people. It will affect you directly and indirectly. How you handle the intelligently automated future will matter to your career and the health of your organization.
You can approach the matter tactically if you choose. If you take this path, you'll probably set a goal of using automation to reduce the workforce by XX%.
A strategic approach considers the bigger picture, including the potential competitive effects, the economic impact of a divided labor workforce, what "optimized" business processes might look like, and the ramifications for human capital (e.g., job reassignment, new roles, reimagined roles, upskilling).
The latter approach is more constructive because work automation is not an end it itself. The reason business leaders need to think about intelligent automation now is underscored by a recent McKinsey study. It suggested that 30% of the tasks performed in 6 out of 10 jobs could be automated today.
Tomorrow, there will be even more opportunities for intelligent automation as the technology advances, so business leaders should consider its potential impacts on their organizations.
For argument's sake, if 30% of every job in your organization could be automated today, what tasks do you consider ripe for automation? If those tasks were automated, how would it affect the organization's structure, operations and value proposition? How would intelligent automation impact specific roles and departments? How might you lead the workforce differently and how might your expectations of the workforce change? What ongoing training are you prepared to provide so your workforce can adapt as more types of tasks are automated?
Granted, business leaders have little spare time to ponder what-if questions, but these aren't what-if questions, they're what-when questions. You can either anticipate the impact, observe and adjust or ignore the trend and react after the fact.
The latter strategy didn't work so well for brick-and-mortar retailers when the ecommerce tidal wave hit…
What Managers Should Consider
The C-suite should set the tone for what the intelligently automated future looks like for the company and its people. Your job will be to manage the day-to-day aspects of the transition.
As a manager, you're constantly dealing with people issues. In this case, some people will regard automation as a threat even if the C-suite is approaching it responsibly and with compassion. Others will naturally evolve as the people-machine partnership evolves.
The question for managers is how might automation impact their teams? How might the division of labor shift? What parts of which jobs do you think are ripe for automation? If those tasks were automated, how would peoples' roles change? How would your group change? Likely, new roles would be created, but what would they be? What sort of training would your people need to succeed in their new positions?
You likely haven't taken the time to ponder these and related questions, perhaps because they haven't occurred to you yet. As a team leader, you owe it to yourself and your team to think about how the various scenarios might play out, as well as the recommendations you'd have for your people and the C-suite.
What Employees Should Consider
Everyone should consider how automation might affect their jobs, including managers and members of the C-suite, because everyone will be impacted by it somehow.
In this case, think about your current position and allow yourself to imagine what part of your job could be automated. Start with the boring routine stuff you do over and over, the kinds of things you wish you didn't have to do. Likely, those things could be automated.
Next, consider the parts of your job that require pattern recognition. If your job entails contract review and contract review is automated, what would you do in addition to overseeing the automated system's work? As the LawGeex experiment showed, AI is highly accurate, but it isn't perfect.
Your choice is fight or flight. You can give into the fear that you may be automated out of existence and act accordingly, which will likely result in a self-fulling prophecy. Alternatively, consider what parts of your job could be automated and reimagine your future. If you no longer had to do X, what would Y be? What might your job title be and what your scope responsibilities be?
If you consider how intelligent automation may impact your career, you'll be in a better position to evolve as things change and you'll be better prepared to discuss the matter with your superiors.
The Bottom Line
The intelligently automated future is already taking shape. While the future impacts aren't entirely clear yet, business leaders, managers and professionals can help shape their own future and the future of their companies by understanding what's possible and how that might affect the business, departments and individual careers. Everyone will have to work together to make intelligent automation work well for the company and its people.
The worst course of action is to ignore it, because it isn't going away.
[For more on automation and AI check out:]Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio