An Article By: David Tan, Chief Technology Officer, CHIPS Technology Group Inc.
There is a long running narrative that the machines will rise up at some point in the future and completely overtake us. This isn’t just about the fear of machines becoming our overlords, that’s pure science fiction reserved for movies and futuristic novels. The real fear most people have – whether they’ll admit it or not, is machines taking over our jobs and making us obsolete. Clearly the ability of machines to automate us out of a useful existence is vastly overstated, and frankly we need to embrace the opportunity this presents.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review looked deeper into the opportunity that automation presents us. They studied approximately 2,000 activities that are performed in various jobs across the entire U.S. economy. Their research revealed that work that currently occupies about 45% of employee time can be automated, but less than 5% of jobs can be fully automated. What does this mean? If we extrapolate their findings out, they concluded that across the board, about 30% of the time an average employee spends is on work that can be done through some form of automation, however the opportunity to completely replace people with machines is exceedingly small – too small in fact to spend the time or monetary investment. However, just think what we can do with the approximate day and a half (30% of your time) that you can get back.
Even the most highly compensated managers in your organization spend time on tasks that can be very easily automated. This could range from anything like data entry to review and analysis to setting up pricing and marketing plans. Decisions like this are based on empirical data, so why not let a powerful machine learning engine make them? They are better at it than people anyway, and have no pre-existing biases or assumptions. Taking this work (tedious or otherwise) out of the hands of people opens them up to focus on things they are better at, that machines can’t do anyway. Tasks like professional development, training and coaching are in no way cut out for machines, and think what your managers alone could do if given time to focus on these and other areas. Other critical areas you can now have your key people focus on include strategy, product development and business growth. Think about it – you just increased your staff by 30%, and all they’re focusing on is the areas that can take your company to the next level.
When people hear talk like this, they get worried about eliminating jobs for humans, and I understand that is a real concern, but like the study points out, a very small percentage of jobs can be completely automated away from people. The cost savings and increased productivity that automation represents are actually a tremendous opportunity for the company as well as the employee. By doing more interesting work that requires human style thinking and knowledge, employees will be more engaged and happier. Who likes doing the type of mindless work that can be automated to begin with? Plus, this translates into better job performance and serves a real benefit to the company, which can in turn funnel some of that added productivity into training and growth opportunities. Think about it, even these automated systems and machines need people behind them to build and maintain them.
Companies that embrace automation will gain real competitive advantages in the marketplace. Becoming more productive, innovative, and agile all represent opportunities to raise both top and bottom-line performance. Plus, the penalties for not automating are becoming increasingly steeper – errors today are far more expensive than they have been in the past. It’s up to you as a business leader to understand the opportunity, explain how it benefits the entire organization and all employees, and figure out how to integrate it into your business and culture.