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Business & Technology Services
16 March 2020

For most organizations, the purpose of technology is to improve performance and create efficiencies, but seen through the eyes of employees that can look like a threat.

The anxiety that generates can obscure the view of technology as an agent of positive change. And as the influence of new technologies is increasingly felt, it is more important than ever to remodel that narrative and find new ways to frame the conversation; rather than people vs machines, it should be people plus machines.

Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the employment landscape forever. Some sources claim many millions of jobs could be at risk; others that more -will be created than lost.

No one can be absolutely certain about the impact. But we can be sure there will be more change happening at a faster pace than we have experienced before. And that presents organizations with an almost impossible challenge – preparing for an uncertain future.

The benefits of Machine FirstTM

There will be boundless opportunities to automate routine and rudimentary tasks as AI enters the mainstream. But that will only be the start, as algorithms become more complex and capable, and machine learning continues to improve. Complex tasks that are currently beyond the remit of AI will not necessarily stay that way.

That does not mean it’s time for organizations to part company with their flesh-and-blood staff and prepare for a machine-only environment. In fact, one of the key ingredients for a successful Machine First enterprise is its people. Rather than machine only, a Machine First approach offers an opportunity to create automation-driven benefits within a flexible, future-ready environment.

Machine First means routing work toward machines, leaving people to perform more complex tasks – tasks that allow them to deliver real business value.

Imagine a finance team manually processing hundreds of invoices and purchase orders. This time-consuming, purely administrative task requires many person-hours and could be considered unrewarding.

Preparing for tomorrow’s workplace

Once a task has been automated, there’s no longer a need for people to spend their days shuffling through stacks of paper. They can be redeployed where their skills can be put to better use.

The biggest challenge of all is preparing to cope with changes in a world where we cannot predict what those changes will be.

Until we know what tomorrow’s jobs are, we can’t train people to do them. However, there is plenty we can do today to prepare people for the changes they might have to adapt to.

It’s true some organizations may see automation as an opportunity to reduce headcount. But that is a short-term outlook and could leave a business trapped by an over-reliance on machines and a lack of talented people. Hiring people for the skills they have today will no longer be enough, though. Other qualities will become more valuable, such as the capacity and willingness to learn.

A vision for the future

The value employees offer to a business will no longer be defined purely by a job description and a series of tasks. After all, an organization may find many of its best people are currently working in jobs that won’t exist in a few years. It will be important to think about what makes them such valuable employees and do so in a more holistic manner. What is it about them, rather than simply their outputs, that can be harnessed to deliver bigger and better outcomes?

This will present a challenge for business leaders, hiring managers and employees alike. How will they know they’ve hired the right person? Conversely, how will that person know they’ve accepted the right job?

Any organization embarking on a strategy of automation will have to include the following into their plans – cultural shifts, change management, and better communication and transparency.

Cultural change is not a simple case of making a series of top-down announcements, though. The most effective and cohesive corporate cultures are those that resonate equally no matter where you sit in the hierarchy.

There are ways you can tackle this, of course. Create small teams to help disseminate your vision for the future. Find champions in each of those teams with the energy and gravitas to help carry the message forward on the organization’s behalf.

These are steps followed by the pharmaceutical company Dr Reddy’s, which redefined its sense of purpose (“good health can’t wait”) and transformed itself into a more agile and responsive organization.

Transparency and communication will help engage staff and keep them motivated during periods of change that might otherwise be unsettling. As well as being transparent, make things easily understood and easily measured, too. When marketing and sales software firm Hubspot went public in 2014, it gave employees access to its financial data before anyone else, so that, the company said, employees would feel invested in and part of the monumental change.

Being ready to thrive in periods defined by change calls for training in the use of new digital technologies. But most of all it will reveal the importance of having a mindset that welcomes new challenges and understands that automation is the technology with a purpose.

About the author(s)
Business & Technology Services

TCS’ Business and Technology Services organization combines the power of business excellence with digital innovations to help enterprises and leaders be purpose-driven and performance-oriented, making the shift from shareholder value to stakeholder value. By harnessing the abundance of data, talent, connectivity and capital, B&TS helps leading companies around the world build ecosystems that fuel growth and innovation, foster collaboration and engagement across ecosystems, improve health, safety, and well-being, enabling empowerment and inclusivity, and driving sustainability and positive environmental impact.