The majority of global workers are eager to embrace automation in the workplace, according to a new academic report commissioned by Automation Anywhere, the global leader in robotic process automation (RPA). However, despite this enthusiasm and the success of early trials within organizations, employees currently are still evaluating how they will deploy these technologies.
Unveiled at Automation Anywhere's Imagine New York experience, Making Work Human: 5 Challenges points to the main obstacles that organizations must overcome in order to scale automation, more specifically RPA, as well as AI, to meet the needs of the workforce of the future.
The global workforce is open to change
- Despite a pervasive narrative of job loss fears, workers themselves do not fear being replaced by automation and AI technologies, according to the research. They also express high levels of curiosity as to how AI can help them do their jobs better.
- Almost three quarters (72 percent) of the 4,000 employees surveyed for the report see the technology as something they work with, rather than something that will replace them. This is opposed to just eight percent of respondents who strongly feel the opposite.
- A majority (57 percent) of workers believe their productivity would increase in the long run if their organization provided more opportunities to trial different types of automation or AI, compared to just 16 percent who feel the opposite.
- Two thirds (66 percent) of workers want to know more about how AI can help them do their job. However, the report warns organizations not to overstate the capabilities of automation and AI – highlighting the growing trend for 'AI washing' akin to 'greenwashing' in the early days of corporate sustainability. A majority (57 percent) of respondents surveyed report hearing, 'a lot of people talking about AI without knowing what it really is.'
Overcoming initial growing pains
Despite the curiosity and openness to explore automation and AI, just 38 percent of workers surveyed globally currently use automation technology to perform their job responsibilities, but there is an expectation that this number will continue to increase. The research also uncovered substantial discrepancies when it comes to how workers across the globe are adopting these technologies today, with only 13 percent of workersin Japan and 26 percent in the UK using automation technology in their current roles, compared to 49 percent in the U.S. and 66 percent in India. Importantly, workers across the globe agree that opportunities to work with AI and automation technologies such as RPA will increase their productivity.
The new research highlights five challenges organizations face in scaling the use of automation (specifically RPA) and AI and suggests practical actions that organizations can take now to address them. The challenges comprise:
- Technology: The challenge of scalability requires that organizations build a culture that can evolve as technology advances. Short term vision would keep organizations stuck in small scale use-cases without looking at broad benefits of automation and AI.
- Skills: The future is all jobs 'supported by automation'. By optimizing for immediate productivity gains without creating a culture of support and advancing skills, organizations would see momentary increases in efficiency without long-term performance sustainability.
- Diversity: The challenge of trust in automation and AI by ensuring opportunities exist to use the technology among all genders.
- Authenticity: The challenge is to avoid 'AI washing' – overstating the capabilities of the technology. The less workers trust the organization, the harder it will be to market the technologies and realize the real value in the long run.
- Resilience: Without embracing change, the technology will be slow to evolve as will worker's skills, and an organization's diversity and authenticity.
Dr. Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation in the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London, and leader of the research commented: "Last year, we conducted research to explore whether automation could make work more 'human.' We found that augmented companies not only enjoyed 28 percent greater performance levels, but also scored 33 percent higher on factors deemed to make a workplace more 'human'."
"In this new research, we wanted to ask – how will organizations scale their technological automation after successful trials? We uncovered five challenges they will face, but there is a relationship among them – and like all great technology revolutions in history, addressing these holistically allows for the balance required for the integration of augmentation into our lives."
Calling for greater diversity in automation
Diversity presents a unique challenge for the rise of automation. Among those surveyed from the general workforce, six percent fewer women than men had received the opportunity to participate in workplace trials of automation technology. With the World Economic Forum recently reporting that just 22 percent of global AI professionals are female, the report warns that organizations need to act faster to change the constitution of the workforce or risk losing valuable insight and capabilities, crucial to scaling automation and AI.
Mihir Shukla, CEO and Co-Founder of Automation Anywhere, concludes: "We commissioned this research to gain a deeper understanding of the practical considerations in scaling automation and AI – for our customers, for our partners and for ourselves. It was crucial we included the voice of workers in the research – employees in the U.S. and around the world, who will be the most impacted by this technology, but also have the most to gain by its presence. From skills to diversity to authenticity, it's important that as a sector, we continue to question and debate these challenging issues, to promote the responsible and ethical development of automation."