Automation will not kill jobs, lack of innovation will

It’s time to think afresh. The verdict is out – Automation will not kill jobs, lack of innovation will. The world is changing fast and if you don’t innovate and change, you are out of the game. You can’t have manual incompetent systems and processes run your organisation in the age of automation. If you do so, it will be a lose-lose formula both for the employees and the company. While the company loses precious time and money handling routine tasks, employees get burnt out doing their repetitive work and start behaving like inefficient machines.

Historically, human beings have been good at reskilling themselves based on the necessities. When ATMs were first introduced, people worried if bank tellers would lose their jobs but as per available statistics, there are more bank tellers today than before ATMs came into force. As more processes got automated, bank clerks have moved up the value chain to become relationship managers. Peons in government offices have become administrative officers. Without technological innovation, they would have remained in the same position forever or even lost their jobs at some point in time.

According to a recent study carried out for Fujitsu by research firm Freeform Dynamics, pressure is growing fast on IT infrastructure and operational processes to automate. As a result, some IT departments are having trouble coping with the new demands. One in seven IT leaders (14%) stated that their departments are ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ at supporting new or changing business needs, while nearly one in 10 struggles with controlling IT-related risks.

The survey revealed that automation of IT operations brings great opportunities to re-focus staff on higher value activities and respond to changing business demands, as it frees up time currently spent on routine admin tasks. “There is clearly a strong correlation between the level of automation in an IT organisation and the quality of service delivery. Increased automation leads to application and business-focused teams, rather than systems-level specialism, a crucial success factor for digitalisation,” says Olivier Delachapelle, Head of Enterprise Business, Category Management Data Center at Fujitsu in EMEIA.

Globally, Fujitsu is on a mission to create human-centric innovation through digital co-creation. While it has strong AI capabilities such as its deep learning platform Zinrai, the Japanese tech major believes AI can never replace humans. “Humans will find more productive things to do. I don’t fear for the humans because we invented AI,” says Andy Stevenson, Fujitsu’s head of Middle East, Turkey, and India.

Automation does not necessarily have to kill jobs. We don’t always have to adopt a rip-and-replace model as humans and robots can work together to create efficiencies. Take the case of India’s largest BPO Genpact which was looking to improve its inefficient manual process of order fulfilment system for one of its major imaging clients. For this, Genpact and Automation Anywhere, a leading robotics process automation (RPA) company, designed an automation solution using various RPA technologies and at the same time maintained some “humans-in-the-loop” to eyeball the entire process for quality control, allowing for an optimal human-robot partnership. It resulted in a 40% improvement in productivity, 25% increase in transaction speed and reduction in cost, and zero errors.

Another classic example is ANZ bank which began its RPA journey in November of 2014 with the build and implementation of their first bot, which took 6 months in total. They chose the difficult task of automating the client on-boarding process, anticipating that if they could automate this, then they could automate anything! With the success of this project, a tougher challenge arose: How to make an impact on a much larger scale throughout the business? How to move beyond building one bot in 6 months to building 40 bots in a week? This was only the beginning of project that led to 2300 bot builds and implementations by 2017.

In these last two years ANZ has not fired any humans. These employees are being reskilled to do more complex jobs that bots can’t do. ANZ started a human-machine journey to create a workplace of the future more than a year ago and till date this journey has been profitable to the organisation. Cost savings were often 40% or more and there was a substantial reduction in the end-to-end delivery time for the customer. ANZ has ‘hired’ 1,800 software robots to mimic the tasks performed by humans. But instead of replacing humans, they work in tandem with the 6,800 bank employees in Bengaluru.

IBM’s cognitive computing platform Watson has often been questioned and criticised for leading to potential job losses. But IBM’s stand is clear. “The biggest misperception about Watson is that it’s meant to replace humans. Watson works with humans to enhance the abilities of professionals at every level, from highly specialised surgeons to oil drillers and automates many basic tasks,” says Dr. Prashant Pradhan, CTO & Chief Developer Advocate, IBM India/South Asia. “However, no matter how advanced the technology, some jobs—specifically, those that rely heavily on empathy, ethical judgment, and social interaction—will always be performed better by humans. AI introduces a new level of collaboration between humans and machines. Watson will augment and expand human intelligence, not replace it.”

By now it seems quite evident that despite the hype about automation leading to job losses, the real threat of job losses comes from the failure of businesses to innovate, says Ankur Kothari, co-founder and CRO, Automation Anywhere. “With automation comes new job functions and titles, since software bots need to be created, managed, tracked, etc. Based on what our customers tell us, these new roles are being filled by existing workers that are receiving training. We believe the full potential of automation can only be realised with bots and humans working in tandem.”

Companies such as IBM are making rapid strides towards automation because they realise the value of innovation. “As a nation, if we aspire to become a knowledge-driven economy, we have to focus on higher order skills and move up the value chain. Our workforce needs skills aligned to technology shifts and market needs. We are slowly moving to an era where skilling will be continuous and people will have many careers within a career…Innovation will only augment capabilities of people, the more they are skilled, the more will they be a differentiator for the company,” says Dr. Pradhan.

So, let’s scrap all discussions around job losses due to automation and start innovating and thinking about the future. Automation will not kill jobs, lack of innovation will!

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Ayushman Baruah
Ayushman Baruah is the founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Startup Observer. With 10+ years of rich experience in journalism spanning across newspaper, magazine, and news wire, Ayushman takes a conscious effort to stay away from the rat's race and the noise of breaking news. The Startup Observer is a noble initiative to serve the readers with ideas that go beyond news. In 2013, Ayushman won the prestigious 15th Annual PoleStar Award in jury's category for excellence in technology journalism. He loves writing, public speaking, observing, travelling, aquariums, and anything that makes him think. He believes in keeping his feet on the ground but eyes on the stars.