Workforce of the future: Are you planning for robots in your team?

Robots and leadership CSC Blogs
Labour arbitrage has long been a strategy to drive down costs. However this was commonly achieved by offshoring the work to people in other countries that get paid less, what is called low-cost centres. But when robots cost a one-time fee of $15k and can do 3 people’s work, then parsing work to other humans in another country is a strategy that needs to be reconsidered.
Robots can work 24/7, don’t have sick days, they don’t join unions, they don’t make mistakes, they can physically sit with you and your team, they are 1000 times faster, and they don’t quit.  You give them names, give them an employee ID, train them to take on very repetitive business processes, then manage their workloads to optimise productivity.
Definition of robots: I am talking here about machine intelligence, NOT artificial intelligence. A machine or software bot that is programmed to follow specific business processes to automate repetitive tasks rather than software that is self-aware, or able to analyse, interpret or make suggestions.
The drive towards automation is a century old, from the factory floor all the way to modern software deployment. In most of these cases however, it has required a “rip and replace” transformation approach — removing the old legacy infrastructure and replacing it with new equipment or software. This has proven to be very costly and very time consuming. And the benefits are usually not realised till many months and, in some cases, years after the investment decision was made.
Whilst there will always be a case for this type of modernisation approach, there is now a new way to think about your problem: Simply overlay a robot on top of your existing systems and processes. You don’t change anything, just program the bot to do exactly what the human does to automate the steps in the process. It’s a lot cheaper and a lot faster.
The decline in roles for routine jobs has held at a relatively steady rate over the last few years (-5% as per latest Gartner stats) but I expect this should experience a much steeper decline when organisations start adopting robotic process automation within their business. For example, today there are still many processes that haven’t been offshored — think about most government agencies, as well as many core business process — where companies either didn’t want the data to go offshore, or wanted to keep a close management eye on the process.
Imagine when the cost for robots drops to say $5k each. This will then be in the reach of most businesses, large and small.
Large incumbent enterprises have struggled to find a way to compete with the startups. Born-digital companies have had the advantage of no legacy systems, no bricks and mortar, no technology debt — they are able to immediately utilize and benefit from many cloud-based service providers so that they can create amazing customer and user experiences.
Robots or software bots are a quick way that enterprises can tackle the startup threat. The low cost and speed of deployment usually means ROI is achieved within weeks. This enables companies to quickly redirect funds to new innovation programs that can surround the processes that bots are doing.
For example, bots can handle customer warranty claims, establish client profiles, provide quotes, etc. Once the bots are doing this process, the savings could be redirected into adding virtual assistant features onto the customer- facing front-end of these automated processes.
For small- to medium-sized businesses, robots are within reach today. Significant business growth may have been limited by your ability to scale while remaining competitive. You couldn’t afford to establish offshore centres, and now you may not need to.  As robots are co-located with your team, you can afford to grow your team at signifantly lower costs, allowing you to scale your business.
This is a conversation about workforce, not a conversation about IT. Business leaders and HR professionals need to have a strategy that includes robots as part of their employee base. This will require leaders to identify and understand which business processes can be handled easily by robots and in which teams. Not only does this require a fundamental change in leadership development and managerial skills to ensure team leaders are well equipped to manage mixed human and robot teams, it may even require a re-thinking of the scope (and name) of your “Human” resources function!
Of course, getting comfortable with robots is an easy first step on the inevitable journey to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation within your business. Incumbent organisations that are experimenting with AI to provide services that help or interact with humans are also finding they cannot treat it as they would any other IT-based change project.
Given the predications for the number of jobs that are to be replaced by robots (see my blog Will a robot take my job- not if I’m creative); and the opportunity to start small and learn how to work with bots, businesses can no longer avoid this conversation.
 
The combination of robots, AI and people working together in mixed teams is your future. What is your Future Workforce roadmap?
 
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Comments

  1. Hi Sonia.

    Interesting angle you have on this. It resonates with an article I wrote which disputes the myth that robots reduce employment, and instead identifies an apparent employment image problem.

    I thought it might be of interest.

    A draft is available here. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/rise-machines-dan-demilew

    Let me know if it’s the type of article you would consider publishing on your blog.

    I look forward to hearing from you

    Dan

    Like

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