Intelligent automation (IA) has arrived in Australia and is already transforming the nature of work and the workplace. The advent of artificial intelligence and disruptive digital technologies is changing the way business is done in nearly every sector of the community. The impact of these technologies on jobs is as beneficial and disruptive as previous waves of automation, ranging from empowering workers with new opportunities, insights and skills, through to partial or full elimination of roles. A smooth transition will require significant investment in education and reskilling by workplaces and workers alike.
What is IA?
IA is an umbrella term for the suite of technologies that enable automation and transformation of business processes. It can complement and even progress processes beyond current human capabilities. It encompasses automation, artificial intelligence, software robotics, cloud technology, machine learning and smart machines. It comprises a mixture of basic and enhanced robotic process automation and cognitive automation. IA is enabled by artificial intelligence, rules-based macros and natural language processing.
What are the benefits/disadvantages of IA?
IA can help streamline and enhance operations, assess risks, make predictions, take actions and solve problems. IA systems can collect, analyse, synthesise and make decisions about vast amounts of textual information. It has the potential to automate entire processes and workflows and guide autonomous vehicles and robots, while continuously learning and adapting to change. Other benefits may include fast processing speed, a high degree of accuracy and availability, robust traceability, flexibility and ease of deployment.
The rise of IA can create economic advantage, boosting productivity, reducing costs and improving sales and efficiency. It can lead to the creation of new roles within companies and new jobs in yet-to exist industries. It also has the potential to free employees to focus more on the ‘human’ aspects of work, such as customer experience, employee engagement and workplace culture.
Despite its benefits, IA also creates significant disruption to the workforce. Robot process automation, for example, has the potential to fully or partially eliminate many work roles within an organisation. In manufacturing, for example, each new robot is said to eliminate 1.6 jobs. Concerns have been expressed around the hollowing out of middle management jobs and the automation of roles in place of rehiring. There is, however, less demand for IA in less structured environments that demand compassion, creativity, empathy and social intelligence.
Workforce adaptation to IA
Actionable and scalable solutions are needed in several areas to help facilitate the adaption to the emergence of IA technologies. A significant investment in education and reskilling is needed to ensure a smooth social and economic transition. This can involve implementing new models of organisational structure, leadership, culture and rewards.
Employers utilising IA solutions have several options available for managing those displaced by IA, assuming that they wish to retain such staff. Staff can be retrained to deal with the data outputs of IA, machine learning, new business needs such as exception handling and customer facing roles, and specialisation in industry or process domains.
Workers will also need to be proactive in upskilling, by advancing their technological skills to adapt to increasingly capable machines. Upskilling may also involve developing and refining social, emotional and higher cognitive skills, such as complex information processing, critical thinking and creativity.