1928 – “March of the Machine Makes Idle Hands”
1956 – “Workers See Robot Revolution Depriving Them of Jobs”
1980 – “A Robot is After Your Job”
2018 – “Why AI Will Create Jobs”
These are all headlines in news outlets over the last 90 years in the U.S. In the 1940s, 25% of American workers were engaged in the manufacturing sector. Fast forward to 2010 – only 10.4% of the workforce is involved in manufacturing. Several assumptions can be made from this fact. What has changed?
The likely story is that:
1. Higher productivity has been achieved with fewer workers providing more products for a much larger population thanks to machines
2. Education’s significance is increasing for labor markets as workers need higher skill levels to operate machines
Robots are smarter now due to substantial improvements in artificial intelligence (AI). History has shown that AI, and automation in general, are known to be concepts that create fear of job loss among the general public. Today, however, the US is enjoying the lowest unemployment rate in many years. In fact, we are at near full employment. We do we continue to forget that innovation consistently leads to competitive products and services that result in growth?
There are many examples of technology implementations that resulted in positive benefits to the workforce. From the replacement of bank tellers by the ATM and resulting growth in banking services, to the growth of the tourism industry through the innovation in the airline industry, to the move away from manual financial analysis toward the incredible use of spreadsheets to exponentially increase the complexity and speed of data management and decision making. This trend will inevitably continue to grow not only within the private sector, but also within the government sector, with several federal agencies announcing new initiatives to adapt AI and other technological advancements. Through these difficult transitions, strategy and business process have been primary drivers of technology to realize success. Those organizations that fail to implement change through the use of innovative technology have no doubt short changed the strategy, business process, and culture work that typically enables a change to have a positive impact.
With robots taking over more activities from humans, we have the opportunity to modify and create new business processes that serve and require additional humans. A Business Process Improvement (BPI) capability, whether through a dedicated internal group or outside consultants, will be more essential as AI becomes an enabler of innovation. Not only to create greater efficiency, but to ultimately better serve people. Process analysis and redesign from a human-centered perspective is essential to maximizing the potential benefits of AI and minimizing its exclusionary risks.
A Successful BPI Approach to Implementing AI
Most published articles on the subjects of AI and technological automation agree on two inevitable changes that organizations have to embrace: continuous learning and adaptation for their workforce, and transformation of the entire labor market. The realization of such imperative changes and transformations require shifts in workers’ mindsets and organizational cultures. This is where a competent BPI capability becomes critical.
Today, we know that technology can meet almost any expectation. AI has been tried before. More than ever though, the right approach is integral to the benefits of AI being realized. An approach that tightly integrates functions such as change management, program management optimization, and organizational development, to provide a human-centered approach to Business Process Improvement . The group that provides the approach must be believers in the value of intentionally putting themselves in the customer’s shoes and taking ample time to understand the problem and its impact on all stakeholders. This cultural attribute and dedication to problem solving typically results in time and money savings as well as reduction in risk.
The approach requires an emphasis on development, as well as efficiency. This means taking a long-term view involving training and continuous learning since we are often transforming people’s jobs, not replacing people with machine or robots. This is crucial to make people feel valued and safe, which of course allows authentic data to be gathered in developing solutions. Development can be on an individual level, team level, and on a full organizational scale.
These complex changes and transformations are not a one-time shift but rather a continuous and evolving process. Partnering with customers in a meaningful way while always considering organizational development principles and philosophy to develop each unique solution is critical to implementing AI. The ultimate goal is to help provide a self-sustained AI solution that executives can sponsor, middle managers can enable, and staff and customers can leverage for high performance. This is yet another great opportunity to use BPI to build an end to end map of the customer journey and connect it to the original strategy to realize the benefits promised by AI.
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