There is some confusion around what automation and Artificial Intelligence looks like in today’s business. One of the first images most people have in their heads is some kind of robot manoeuvring around a warehouse. This is one aspect of automation that has proven especially popular within the manufacturing industry. But many different shapes and forms of automation and AI can be found in any business from any industry.
Automation is the process of replacing human labour with machine labour. It can range from smaller, subtle features to help improve an employee’s efficiency, to more obvious implementations like self-sufficient robots performing complicated tasks. Businesses continue to look towards technology to increase their productivity. This means automation is set to become an even bigger presence in the modern workplace. A recent report highlighted that in Q2 2021, orders of robotics for businesses increased 67% compared to Q2 2020.
This increase in AI & automation throws up several positives and negatives. Organisations will see huge benefits to including these forward-thinking techs. However, there are also some concerns about the effects these implementations will have. These worries come from both an employer and employee perspective. That’s why we have outlined some of the positives and negatives found in bringing AI and automation into your business.
The biggest misconception about AI & automation is that they will replace workers. Whilst this is a concern that we will cover shortly, it is an exaggerated idea of what automated software and AI products are in place for. This tech’s purpose is to replace human labour with robotic capabilities. It aims to help employees perform their jobs with more efficiency. The primary method through which this is done is by using automated tech to handle menial tasks that may be laborious and time-consuming.
In many office and admin roles, employees will have to comb through large numbers of data to source and collect information, as well as identifying certain statistics which are important to their job. This can be a monotonous task, which holds up employees from carrying out other, more productive duties. The solution that automation provides is that software will handle this data searching and file-combing to identify key points and store important information. For instance, in marketing roles, many social media platforms utilise automation to sort through marketing activity to find areas where results can be improved or highlight successes. In sectors such as recruitment and sales, automation software can scan through a lead’s information and assess whether this person is worth pursuing or not.
Automation and AI will also prove helpful in industries that handle dangerous tasks or items. Within engineering and science companies, many employees will have to handle raw materials that can be toxic or corrosive to humans, whilst staff who work in warehousing or manufacturing will perhaps have to handle heavy loads. Through robotics, businesses can avoid accidents by using technology capable of handling both dangerous substances and heavy items, removing the risk from their employees.
Implementing automated and AI tools into a workplace will be cost-efficient in the long run, but there’s no getting around the fact that the initial costs of implementation will be high. As reported by Salesforce, 37% of organisations view these introductory costs as a barrier to bringing automation into their working environment. The high capital expenditure required to integrate this equipment into a business can be a challenge. This is especially true for smaller businesses. Whilst they see the benefits, unfortunately, the short-term costs may be deemed to be too expensive.
This also leads to the issue of continued maintenance costs. Much of the new technology is designed to perform for a long period. But at the end of the day, it is still a piece of equipment. That means there will have to be time and money invested into keeping your tech up to scratch. This can range from software updates to buying new add-ons and extras to keep your tools in line with the industry standards, or simply buying new, more advanced tech to replace older, out-of-use machinery.
AI and automation augment a business to improve their productivity. This means that the continued implementation of Artificial Intelligence will help businesses improve their productivity. This is especially important for customer-facing industries. As technology continues to develop, the general public now finds it easier and simpler to handle tasks and activities independently. At one time, the high street was the first place to go for many people’s shopping needs. Now, it’s online to e-commerce platforms like Amazon, Very and Asos.
Where businesses can adapt to these changes is by utilising automated tech. Tools like chatbots, predictive software and facial recognition tools make a customer’s journey as smooth as possible. This is something that we’ve seen in certain areas for a while now. Cash machines in banks have made smaller chores like drawing and withdrawing much simpler for people. Fast-food drive-thrus and outlet stores like Argos use self-service screens to let customers choose the orders and products they want.
All this can be utilised in many of today’s small-to-medium businesses. New automation tools are being developed to help organisations make their customer’s time with them a fast and stress-free experience. For instance, in the healthcare sector, automated tech is being used to improve patient care and give them more independence from their carer. This includes equipment like glucose monitors for diabetics to monitor blood glucose levels and deliver insulin doses with little-to-no user input, and reminder systems to arrange appointments and provide patients with important updates.
As mentioned earlier, the removal of the menial, laborious tasks from day-to-day roles of employees can lead to higher motivation and – ultimately – higher productivity. By removing the ‘less-sexy’ aspects of their day-to-day work, employees are able to focus on more productive and engaging tasks, helping them feel that they are adding more value to the business. Engaged employees result in greater productivity!
Automation technology is designed to eliminate the need for repetitive, low-skilled work, but that doesn’t mean that it can function on its own without the need for human input. Whilst so much of technology is incredibly advanced and serves many purposes, only a select few can function independently. Automation tools need human input to determine what their purpose is and what it’s end-goal will be. In data analysis jobs, automation tools are incredibly useful in searching through large files of data. But it still needs an employee to set up the software, inform it of what needs to be found and then analyse the findings afterwards. That being said, once the initial requirements/training of the systems have been conducted, there are some automation tools which are able to run independently, based on rules or timings as and when required. In theory, some technologies can run 24/7, without human input, but these technologies are small in number and may still need to be monitored for issues.
In the world of customer services, Artificial Intelligence technology is used to create a faster and smoother journey for customers, yet they still need a person to talk to when they’re confused or the tech isn’t working for them. When a customer leaves a review for a brand, most of the time it will be to praise a person, not the technology. Even if AI reaches a point where it can perfectly imitate human interaction, it will never be able to replicate the thoughts and emotions that build and flow within a conversation. Human emotion can never be automated, and so will still need to be an important factor in your business.
Much of the discourse surrounding AI and automation in the workplace is that more robotics will lead to fewer jobs. We must acknowledge that there is always a risk of lower-paying, less-skilled positions being scaled back or outright displaced by tech, but on the other hand, the implementation of automated tech will create new jobs with modern skills. For instance, it was reported that AI and machine learning roles had risen by 75% over the last four years. This is set to continue to grow as new, more advanced tech is being innovated. By 2024, machine learning jobs are projected to be worth $31 billion.
For businesses, automation and AI will contribute huge benefits. Firstly, automated tech will lead to less need for lower-skilled workers. This will offset the cost of the technology by saving money on employee salaries, pensions and benefits. Secondly, advanced tech will provide a greater scale and scope for their products.
For the economy at large, automation and AI will be a huge benchmark. The points made above lead to a gradual boost for the economy at large. Automated tech leads to employees performing their job more efficiently and eliminates the need to undertake time-consuming, lesser-skilled tasks. This leads to greater productivity for businesses, creating an increase in products and services – which then leads to a better experience for customers, who now have more time thanks to automated tech and a better variety of products. Ultimately, this results in more money being spent, producing a healthier economy. Overall, the potential boost to global GDP by automation is projected to reach 15 trillion dollars by 2030.
As we have alluded to throughout this article, the image of robotics in the workplace is not a positive one. Many people believe that the implementation of more technology in businesses will eliminate the need for employees.
This is not a new concept; it’s a perception that dates back throughout history. During the Agricultural Revolution in the 18th century, there was a decrease in human labour due to an increase in machinery and techniques that led to better food production. During the industrial revolution, scores of people lost work due to the increase in machinery found in various industries. In the world of print media, huge numbers of employees found their skillsets redundant due to the introduction of industrial printers. The fear of losing work to a machine has been here ever since electricity was first discovered. So, it’s natural that people would be concerned that an increase in automated tech would lead to less need for human workers.
In a report by the OECD, it was reported that 14% of jobs are at high risk due to automation. The main industries impacted are manufacturing and agricultural companies, as they typically hire lower-level workers to perform under-skilled tasks, which automation is designed to cover. But as this tech continues to advance, there will be a further risk of other jobs becoming redundant. The continued development of self-driving vehicles could eventually lead to losses in work for people like taxi drivers, valets or couriers. In the retail industry, the use of AI to place, track and update orders can lead to less need for workers to fulfil all these tasks, meaning a desire for a smaller workforce.
The continued implementation of automation and AI into today’s workplace will provide great benefits for businesses and employees alike, though it will come with drawbacks for both as well. Many employees will have a better opportunity to increase their productivity and perform in their position more successfully. Meanwhile, others will find that their skills are no longer in use due to the advances in tech. Unfortunately, this is simply the nature of the workplace; some jobs simply become unnecessary after a while, which leads to people losing their jobs.
For businesses, automation will help them increase their growth with more productivity, better variety in their products and services, and an enhanced customer experience. The initial costs and high maintenance will be tough at first, and there will still need to be a human workforce to support the tech. However, the benefits this tech provides will create more success in the long term.
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