As enterprises seek an edge on competitors, they’re turning to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics and intelligent automation. Voice assistants that remind you of a pending conference call, chat bots that interact with website visitors, robots that pack customer orders in a warehouse — these and other smart technologies are increasingly becoming part of the fabric of the workplace.
As machines and algorithms have learned to perform services that once were handled solely by humans, some enterprises (and even entire industries) have embraced the opportunity to reduce payrolls. But to fully leverage the benefits of intelligent technologies, enterprises must encourage and help workers to collaborate with smart machines. When organizations combine these digital technologies with their human assets (the skills, knowledge, experience and judgment of employees), they can increase the value and effectiveness of both — and, in the process, improve productivity, increase efficiency, foster innovation and enable strategic goals.
It is, however, a process that’s best not left to chance. Rather, enterprise decision makers should develop and implement a roadmap for educating employees about intelligent machines, training and re-skilling, and restructuring workflows as necessary. This will enable enterprises to leverage the nascent talent of their workforce while ensuring the machines operate as expected.
“There’s still a need for humans to program and control those processes and machines because they’re still fallible,” says Max Hemingway, chief technologist for DXC Technology in the United Kingdom. “Even if you’ve automated something, you still need to make sure it’s still running and is kept up to date because you may forget all about it and then make a change that will impact that process down the road.”
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The first steps in preparing employees to work with smart technologies are to (1) demystify these tools, and (2) demonstrate how they can help employees do their jobs more efficiently by taking on mundane tasks and freeing workers to focus on higher-value activities.
“One of the key things businesses need to do is to say, ‘Look, you sit there and press that button every day. We can automate that part of your job and get you involved in some newer stuff,’” Hemingway says.
While some employees may view such an offer as an opportunity, others may suspect they are being maneuvered into training their replacements. It is vital that enterprises follow through by offering training and re-skilling in working with intelligent machines. This step requires input from relevant decision makers and coordination from the human resources (HR) department, which can offer a combination of online courses and in-house training to help employees acquire the necessary skills for their evolving jobs.
Even more critically, enterprises must reorient employees to think more strategically, become more analytical and adopt an innovation mindset. These cognitive skills transcend changes in technology and provide long-term advantages to both the enterprise and individual workers. A commitment to AI training and employee development not only helps ensure that enterprises have the right skills in house, but it can also foster greater loyalty and reduce costly turnover.
Digital transformation means more than implementing intelligent technologies; it means a commitment to ongoing organizational transformation and a culture of continual learning. It also requires a commitment from employees, according to Hemingway.
“You have to be in the mindset to learn skills,” he says. “Keeping your skills current is absolutely key today and in the future.”