Future of Jobs: The Role of People in an automated, robotic world

Using Automation and Robotics to do things differently

When people think of automation, their thoughts often drift to the large industrial machinery designed and built to accomplish specific tasks along an assembly line. While the complexity of tasks achieved by machines has increased over the years, they are far from being called intelligent. But that is changing. Today, automation is being powered by digital technologies—enabling machines to do a wider range of activities and even learn new ones.

So what is powering this new wave of intelligent robotics and automation? For starters, cloud technology is delivering almost limitless computing power to fuel the complex operations demanded by robotics. Furthermore, unprecedented volumes of data (supplemented by the decreasing cost of data storage) are creating vast swaths of information for machines to access and learn from.

More broadly, robotics solutions are being empowered by the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence. IoT is creating connected environments where machines can communicate with other machines. These maturing networks are allowing more reliable and safer interactions (in both the digital and physical world), while creating the foundation for robots to accomplish more demanding tasks. Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, is the brain behind the operation. As the software driving these machines becomes better equipped to learn and handle basic cognitive tasks, the robots subsequently can be entrusted with more complex tasks.

Start-ups are also contributing to this disruption as businesses increasingly look to partner with robotics and automation start-ups to help them stay ahead of the competition. In 2015 alone, robotics start-ups received an estimated US $1.3 billion in funding.  Other companies take it a step further by purchasing some of these start-ups. Acquisitions in 2015 for robotics companies totaled more than US $2.3 billion.


So What About People?

However, as businesses consider heavier investments in automation, where does this leave the existing workforce? Many companies are viewing automation as a cost-cutting exercise. While this may look good on the bottom line, such an approach is shortsighted because companies rely on employees to uncover new avenues for business. Many large firms also recognize the importance of people in their mission statements—variations of creating a better society through business growth. Deviating from this professed value could result in brand and market devaluation.

Companies excelling with automation are using it to free their people to work on more challenging and cerebral tasks. For example, not a single writer at the Associated Press has lost their job due to content writing bot deployment. Even better, instead of focusing on routine reports, writers are now devoting more time to providing insights into why numbers look the way they do on a particular financial report. This emphasis on people first is becoming a common theme across enterprises. 84% of executives surveyed in a recent report from the Accenture Institute for High Performance believe that intelligent machines will make work more interesting.

Undoubtedly, there are challenges ahead. The skills a company employs today may not be the skills it needs in the future. Siemens runs a fully automated factory- that still employs 1,150 people. However, instead of working on the factory floor, the people now remotely monitor operations and program the machinery. Predicting exactly which jobs are going to emerge, remain or disappear is a difficult task.

What’s clear though is that routine, manual jobs with low cognitive requirements are being more readily absorbed by machines. Jobs emerging in their place are ones that require adaptability, creativity and the skills to monitor and manage these intelligent machines. For companies in any industry, a vital part of building an automation strategy will be determining how the company injects new skills into its workforce, builds the workforce for adaptability and change, and finds the right talent to collaborate alongside machines.

More than the novelty of self-driving cars, or packages being delivered by drones, the disruptive impact of automation and robotics is embedded in how it is transforming the nature of work. And as automation continues to change what people do, and how they do it, it effectively changes the goals and activities of entire organizations.

To know more on how digital technologies will impact work, and through that the business of technology companies, stay tuned for the upcoming NASSCOM study – Reinventing to Disrupt: Shaping a New Identity for the Indian IT Industry

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