Picture this. You are in an elevator and your watch starts vibrating and one swipe tells you that it’s an important alert from your bank. You are facing some issues with your banking transaction and you are connected to a chatbot (an intelligent robot at the bank’s contact centre) and over a series of messages, the bot meticulously addresses your problem. This indicates the onset of a digital era which is set to transform the way people work and interact in daily business activities.
Intelligent automation, software robotics, cognitive computing, augmented reality and machine learning have the potential to increase productivity, improve efficiency, and reduce time-to-market and reshape the manner in which people and enterprises function.
Many industry experts believe that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) will become pervasive across industries in the next decade. Machines with natural language processing skills will help to automate routine and repetitive tasks.
One of the world’s oldest and largest news gathering organizations is using AI to develop more than 4,000 corporate earnings stories.
Leading IT services companies have developed AI platforms to streamline different aspects of their project delivery. For instance, a tier-1 Indian IT services player plans to use its AI platform to automate application maintenance projects. This will help the company save up to $50 million and free around 3,000 engineers from routine software maintenance activities. A leading utility company is using AI in the area of financial reporting and accounting statement preparation.
The future of the workforce is poised to change dramatically. In the new wave of automation led by software robots, AI is also expected to redefine jobs which were previously considered immune to technological displacement such as white-collar work. For instance, algorithms are bringing deeper insights in the financial services space (high-frequency trading) and automation is making its presence felt in the healthcare segment by altering the manner in which healthcare services are being delivered (mobile health apps, robotic surgery and diagnosis by algorithms).
The technological advances will redefine the notion of what a “job” is and change the “eight-hours-a-day-work” paradigm. The workplace will become a hyper-connected network of people and machines and no longer be confined to traditional working hours or places.
However, the proverbial glass is half full. Previous experience has shown that automation has redefined what were then considered as traditional jobs and created new jobs in the manufacturing ecosystem.
Rather, the digital disruption brought about by automation is likely to create new companies and opportunities in hitherto unheard of economic activities. However, it is observed that a majority of the workforce is not adequately prepared to deal with these technology changes.
Both employees and enterprises will have to adapt, reinvent and upskill themselves to stay relevant.
As technology drives and reshapes business needs, enterprises will be required to revamp their learning and development programmes to re-skill their employees and enable them to take on tasks beyond the purview of bots and algorithms. Technical training needs to be oriented towards meeting the dynamic needs of the next-generation workforce. Furthermore, the next-generation workforce will have to take ownership to build their own ‘brand’ to take on jobs which match their new skill-sets.
At the same time, to attract the new-age digitally-connected workforce, companies will need to provide an entrepreneurial environment where employees can experiment innovative ideas. The changing nature of work will free up individuals to pursue other interests and has the potential to spur a new wave of entrepreneurship.
An important stakeholder in the journey to the next-generation workplace is the government, which can act both as a monitor and an enabler. Governments around the world will have an important role to play in the new paradigm as the employer-employee relationship evolves drastically.
Next-generation enterprises, whose businesses are based mainly on AI/automation, argue that existing regulations were designed for another era and are not in line with the demands of the industry. There is a need to re-examine existing regulations and develop new regulatory regimes which are designed for the future—nimble, real time and responsive to the needs of the work force.
Milan Sheth is advisory partner and technology sector leader, EY India. Views are personal.