By Nikhil Barshikar, Founder and MD, Imarticus Learning
Whether it is chatbots instead of customer service representatives, or package-sorting robots taking over human roles in the supply chain, emerging technology tools are penetrating job functions across industries. This sea of change has given rise to several viewpoints on the immediate issues which workplaces need to address. Amongst these, the most prominent is undoubtedly that artificial intelligence, machine learning and other similar technologies may actually take over job roles, putting human employees out of work as a result.
However, another viewpoint which has emerged is that new technology will simply extend a helping hand in terms of specific job functions, but will not take over the jobs themselves. According to recent reports, emerging technology will wipe out a significant number of existing roles by 2022, it will also create almost twice as many (approximately 133 million jobs), within the same time frame.
The second perspective, however, can only be implemented with a significant paradigm shift to accommodate new systems and processes centred on emerging technology. Creativity and innovation on the part of the organisation and its employees play a major role in altering existing processes and working on new tailor-made solutions. As per a 2018 report by the World Economic Forum, creativity and innovation are amongst the top 10 skills that are required for jobs in the future. Other skills on the list include analytical thinking, active learning, critical thinking, leadership and emotional intelligence.
Small tweaks can go a long way in implementing a new system
To be truly effective, innovative changes in an organisation’s systems need to start before the new wave of technology has fully saturated the professional realm. These changes need to be introduced by executives at the helm of organisations and policy-making bodies within an organisation, such as Human Resources. Having these changes made from within the company will act as a facilitator for all those involved, as familiarising them in advance is the most effective way to prepare them for the bigger shift to come.
That said, it is not necessary for the big shift to be introduced after an announcement or a couple of training sessions. The requirements will vary from organisation to organisation, but a practical approach may be to innovate and come up with solutions that are smaller in scale but enable the company to streamline and increase the productivity of critical functions.
The simpler tasks are for machines; the more complex are still for humans
The extent to which AI and other emerging technologies will take over processes will still leave room for human intervention. This is because, machines can take care of the simpler, repetitive work and can become smarter as they move along, but for anything that leaves this space, humans will be able to better discern what will best suit the situation based on external factors and indicators.
For instance, a machine can help place a food order based on certain options, but a human employee can help take the customer experience a notch above, with the amount of time they spend catering to a customer’s individual needs as well as their politeness and other behavioural factors. These, combined with on-the-spot perks like a bonus food item or a special discount based on what they gauge from their interaction with a customer are mostly beyond the reach of most bots unless they are routine.
Retail giants around the world are turning to AI to facilitate futuristic customer experiences. They have gone on to implement technology which automates in-store purchases to the extent that customers do not need to go to a checkout counter once they pick up items of their choice, letting them walk out of the store once they are done. This is because the stores are equipped with AI sensors that track exactly what a customer takes, charge them virtually and send them an online receipt. Thus, in such a situation, the roles of the employees are not to be physically present in numbers at the store, but rather to oversee the AI functions and ensure the technology is working seamlessly.
Upping the experience with creativity and innovation
While machines take over specific tasks, their application will need to be supervised and improvised upon based on the creativity and innovation form human teams. There will thus be a shift from these employees carrying out the tasks to supervising the same tasks run by machines, while they will be able to channel their expertise into value addition for other areas of the business.
These changing times call for a shift not just in systems at the workplace, but in perspectives for both employees and organisations. Organisations must also encourage the growth of their employees through strategic training, upskilling and familiarising, in order to prepare them for the dynamic roles of the future, whether existing ones or those which will eventually emerge.
The gradual introduction of changes in processes may be the most beneficial, as employees can experiment with their creativity and innovation. This creates room for any wrinkles to be ironed out in the process, for a seamless transition when it’s time for the big shift to a technology-driven professional world. In the long run, following this path for the introduction of workplaces of the new-age will help employees learn and grow individually and, in turn, will enable them to effectively contribute to the growth of their organisations.