In my many decades working in the technology sector, I’ve certainly come across people, and sometimes entire teams, that are reluctant to embrace AI-led automation. Automation can be feared by employees who feel their role will be diminished, and their responsibilities absorbed by far more capable and intelligent ‘robots’.
In reality, however, AI-automation can be incredibly empowering. It can take away menial and time-consuming tasks, and free employees to do the tasks that are more aligned with their area of expertise.
But what exactly do we mean when we talk about AI-led automation, and how could it work for your organisation?.
What is AI-led automation?
Broadly speaking, automation is the fundamental basis of technology. It’s the process of streamlining tasks so things can work faster and more effectively – whether it’s scanning items at a checkout, diagnosing an issue with a car’s engine, or checking-in people at an airline counter.
The advent of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence has, however, taken automation to a new level. These innovations use data to support continual process improvement, and enable us to capture and interpret vast volumes of data – and then adapt based on this information – in real time.
Generally speaking, there are three types of intelligent, AI-led automation:
Infrastructure automation – where technology is used to continually optimise and evolve your IT infrastructure. This could mean spinning up virtual machines, onboarding new devices, implementing security updates and more. This can reduce workload for IT teams, cut costs, and ensure important things don’t slip through the cracks.
Software automation – where the software that your organisation uses starts making decisions based on the specific behaviour of your employees. For instance, where a document provides predictive text suggestions based on the apparent intent of a document, or when you select one person for a meeting and your software asks if you would like to add particular attendees based on previous meeting patterns.
Customer service automation – where technology is used to facilitate an interaction with a customer and answer their questions. This could be a bot on a website, which answers a customer’s queries about new products and services and then escalates an enquiry to the relevant person with the organisation. Or it could be a voice service in a call-centre, which senses the tone of a person’s voice, and provides appropriate responses based on their answers and level of agitation.
Adoption of AI-led automation is usually either prompted by a commitment to digital transformation, or by an unforeseen event – like COVID-19 – which forced businesses to adapt with unprecedented speed.
How do you overcome the ‘robot revolution’ fears?
While AI-led automation has all kinds of far-reaching benefits, it’s fairly understandable that employees will have reservations. However, there are a few key things you can do to alleviate this:
Have a plan
Most organisations simply don’t start out with the required technology foundations to support continual and large-scale automation. Regardless of your level of digital capability, it’s very likely you will need to do some work on your infrastructure to ensure it can support the level of automation you would like to achieve in the future. This requires time and a solid roadmap in place from the beginning. Identifying which processes you would like to automate, and how, is an important first step.
Take a phased approach
Similarly, adopting AI and machine learning doesn’t have to be a ‘big bang’ scenario, and very rarely is. Moving from largely manual processes to fully automated, intelligent processes can be a slow and gradual transition. As such, it makes sense to optimise small, individual processes at a time, and prove the success of one initiative before moving on to the next. When people see a process working well, and realise the benefits it brings to their day-to-day work, they’re more likely to be receptive to another.
Communicate and educate
It’s understandable that employees may be fearful of new technology, so be sure to be fully transparent about how AI-led automation can help enhance, rather than replace, their responsibilities. Involve employees at every step of the process so they know that changes are coming, and aren’t overwhelmed when their software starts automatically populating their timesheet, or suggesting people for them to meet with.