The Knowledge & Innovation Network’s (KIN) Summer Workshop took place on the 19th June in the beautiful setting of the Elvetham Hotel in Hook, Hampshire. The workshop examined another facet of the ‘future of work’ theme, with a lense on the application of AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to human augmentation.
Our keynote speaker, Dr Chris Brauer, provided some insight to his latest research and analysis of the ‘Augmented Human Enterprise’, a major academic study into the performance dynamics of people and automation technology in the workplace, which probes the question “can automation make work more human?”. His research revealed evidence that ‘augmented enterprises’ - those that get the most out of their people and their AI/RPA technology - outperform non-augmented competitors and are better at human factors in the workplace. He identified five key challenges to making work more human:
Dr Brauer also postulated that the business case for AI is not yet working (huge investment in time, cost and resources with little impact on output), whereas there is emerging evidence that RPA is delivering a return on investment (ROI).
The full research report is available at: https://www.automationanywhere.com/uk/makeworkhuman
Cleary Ahern, a workplace psychologist and collaborator on the above research talked about the impact on jobs, skills and training, and the changing workplace psychology that will accompany the introduction of augmentation technologies such as AI/RPA to the workplace. Her key message was that it was not about displacement of workers, but about up-skilling workers in order to effectively off-load routine tasks to augmentation technologies. The trends are clear; routine work done by humans is diminishing, AI-augmented non-routine work is increasing.
Our next speakers gave us an insight to the practical implementation and application of RPA, with case studies from National Grid (Gemma Lewis) and Severn Trent Water (Sam Thornton, Baringa Associates and David Sheldon, STW)
The RPA team at National Grid was entirely self-trained and self-resourced. Their approach to identifying suitable processes for automation was to identify the areas of the business that were struggling. Typical indicators were high staff turnover and staff sickness, potentially caused by a high proportion of routine and time-consuming tasks. They have built over 50 robots, freeing up staff from routine tasks and enabling them to focus on more interesting work. No staff have lost their jobs as a result of RPA/automation.
Severn Trent Water ran two parallel projects, automation of a simple process that could potentially realise one full time employee (1 x FTE) savings. The other, an all-encompassing robot to create 5 x FTE’s worth of capacity. The automation of the simple process was delivered on time and to specification. The larger project saw diminishing benefits as complexity was uncovered. Key point: when tackling RPA for the first time, pick something simple.
Both case studies promoted the concept of ‘humanising’ the robot, i.e. it’s not a robot, it a virtual team member.
Lucy Standing, Vice Chair Association for Business Psychology talked about the social aspects of robots and AI with tips for implementing a positive social wellbeing culture in the workplace. She spoke about the changing aspirations of people coming into the workplace, as follows:
· 8am to 6pm working days
· Company Car
Your future employees…
· More flexibility
· More focus on work life balance
· Help getting next job – time off for studying/courses/start ups
· Increased paternity provision
Automation Anywhere gave the final session of the day, which included a ‘build a bot’ demonstration. Ross McGuire from AA demonstrated how an automated process (a bot) can be created without any programming skills, on their AA platform. Using a combination of ‘record and play’ and picking from a list of pre-coded routines, the bot extracted data from a website, loaded it into an Excel spreadsheet and applied various functions on the data.
It is predicted that:
· 20% of any white-collar workforce will be Digital Workers
· 50% of all office based Human Workers will have Digital Assistants
· New companies will have Digital Workers from day zero
· The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here – Humans and Machines working together
While the hyped potential of AI generates endless headlines – both positive and negative – technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are quietly being rolled out in many of the most well-run organizations around the world. It’s early days yet, but there is ample evidence that humans and bots are already working alongside each other across the globe and in every sector. Where businesses are getting it right, the best of our human capabilities are being augmented by technology to create efficiencies and innovations never before imagined.
Warwick Business School.