When first hearing the term ‘Augmented Workforce’, it immediately brought to mind a futuristic landscape; a world at risk from the overwhelming force of malicious robotic entities. We have all seen films like ‘iRobot’ and ‘The Terminator’, surely nothing good can come from experimenting with technology that is out of our control. However, the truth is vastly different from this mental image.
An augmented workforce is a mixture of human employees and advanced technology working together to achieve tasks. This technology can come in the form of software, AI and robots, all enlisted to streamline businesses for maximum efficiency.
How far away are we from reaching this? In truth, the reality we considered to be so far away is occurring now. A recent article by Deloitte reported that 41% of companies have fully implemented or made significant progress in implementing the above-mentioned technologies.
So, what are the types of automation technologies and how are they being used by businesses?
Automation technologies can be placed into three categories:
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA): This is the simplest and most basic form of automation. This technology is unable to learn, adapt or make decisions of its own; in short, it is a bot that follows a simple set of rules to deliver quick and efficient outcomes. Examples of where this can be used is customer order and payroll processing.
- Machine learning: This is the next level in automation, and involves a computer being able to use large volumes of data to understand and predict a desired course of action. Its performance improves over time with the more information it ingests. An example of this is a chat bot.
- Cognitive augmentation: This is the closest we currently have to artificial intelligence. Cognitive computers are able to handle unstructured data, providing answers to a number of complex questions. This enables them to carry out tasks that previously only humans could achieve.
Particular business that are paving the way with these technologies are:
- Car manufacturers, with the creation of driverless cars and trains.
- Marketing companies, with the utilisation of chat bots for service and support.
- Apple, Amazon and Google with the formation of voice activated personal assistants like Siri and Alexa.
There are many clear benefits to these technologies. However, the number one question playing on people’s minds is this: If technology is able to achieve the work that once only we could do, what will happen to our jobs?
HRZone recently advised that the real challenge for any organization is to create a culture where AI is seen as a positive rather than a threat to people’s jobs. Whilst this is going to be difficult for many HR departments to achieve, there are some ways of doing this. Having open and honest, two-way discussions about plans can help, preventing employees from perceiving it as a secret that they are not privy to because it means bad news to them. Wherever skilled workers can be retrained and given new positions will go a long way to employees maintaining a positive outlook. Having a great development program in place that can engage and inspire employees is critical to this.
Doomsday predictions about automation’s impacts to the workforce have been in the headlines for the past few years, with total job loss a significant concern. For example, in 2014 Gartner research director Peter Sondergaard stated, “Gartner predicts one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025.” Yet while there are pockets of extensive automation within the industry, generous estimates cannot put the average rate of automation above 5% – significantly behind the rate required to achieve replacement of a full third of the workforce in 7 years.
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