Automation is a business transformation technology that involves innovations in the field itself, but more recently leveraging innovations in the areas of AI, Machine Learning and Big Data. And as all of these fields gain maturity, pundits are naturally playing forward the impact and making predictions about job losses across various industries directly as a result of automation.
Reiterating the title of this post, “will automation take my job” I think the answer is a clear “maybe”. But job loss isn’t the only outcome of automation. My experience has shown that many organisations are seeking to increase the value of the output of their internal workings, and often key employees are constrained with low value tasks. In IT this is particularly true, where many employers are seeking proactive innovation and thought leadership from employees in their respective areas. But often this is not being realised as they are consumed with lower skill, high occurrence tasks that are important - but are not producing an ROI to the business. IT is just one example, the same problem can cross many industries and skill sets.
Today, automation can be good at undertaking pre-planned actions when pre-defined conditions occur. Which means certain types of roles, that are formulative in nature, lend themselves to automation. But trying to improve the efficiency of these roles is not necessarily new. Many organisations have already spent effort reducing the associated costs, sometimes replacing higher cost resources with lower cost alternatives. This transition typically required organisations to document the process aspects of these roles in detail, naturally this feeds well into the foundations of an automation drive. And this is not necessarily limited to the lower end of the pay scale, I am sure there are a number of people in high paying roles in FSI, trading, banking etc. that are beginning to see components of their role replaced by automation.
Looking forward, automation is beginning to become more adaptive and use machine learning and AI more broadly to make judgement calls. Bots may understand typed and spoken language as input. Routines may use analytics and prediction to select the best cause of action to a specific situation. This broadens the scope of the application of automation from tasks, which have clear black/white outcomes to those with shades of grey requiring intuition calls.
So is this all doom and gloom? I think this is definitely an approaching wave of change that is going to impact on areas of the workforce. Over time this will phase out some roles, and aspects of others, but it will also result in creation of new roles and the improvement of others. Contrary to how if can sometimes seem, most organisations are not just trying to cut costs. They are instead usually focused on ensuring value is being created for both their customers and their shareholders, and driving their competitive advantage. While this does mean reducing costs where practical, it also means making investment in areas that continue to drive growth. This should therefore also mean new jobs, new opportunity and more innovation across the board.
But it does mean change is likely for some, and change can be very unpleasant. To ensure you are ready for change I think you need to take an honest look at your current role to determine if it fits the model of a function that overtime could be automated. If so take the opportunity to begin preparing for the change, developing skills and experiences that will ultimately be of higher value if/when organisations begin to adopt automation as a means to increasing value.