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Creating New Jobs with a Machine-First Approach to Automation

 

Ram Subramanian
Global Head, HCM Practice
10 September 2019

A customer walks into a restaurant. She asks the server, “What do you recommend?”

“The salmon,” the server says. The server is thinking about what hasn’t been selling and is basing her recommendation on the restaurant’s needs instead of the customer’s (who may not even like fish).

With artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and advanced analytics, combined with data collected about the customer’s purchasing history, the server could recommend a dish the customer would prefer, improving her dining experience and generating loyalty.

And the restaurant will know not to buy as much salmon, saving money.

This is the promise of intelligent software. Today, across all sectors – from finance to retail to entertainment – companies digitally transforming themselves are reinventing the customer experience while reducing operating costs and boosting their top and bottom lines. But many CEOs and HR leaders, afraid that automation will destroy jobs, and leery of workforce disruption, are reluctant to embrace automation fully.

In our research and client experience, we’ve found that companies that pursue a machine-first strategy – in which these intelligent tools are optimized and businesses processes transformed to maximize their impact – create more jobs than they eliminate if functional and HR leaders identify the jobs and skills they need to benefit from them.

Three Initiatives for Defining the New Jobs Technology Will Create

AI, ML, and advanced analytics are not magic bullets. They cannot improve an organization’s operations simply by being implemented; people have to be trained to use them effectively. That restaurant server, for example, needs to know how to use the app (perhaps on a mobile device) that informs her about the customer’s purchasing history.

In this new age of automation, it’s imperative for businesses to align their business and human capital strategies, and we’ve found three initiatives that are essential to this work:

  1. Identify the new tasks needed. When a machine takes over a job previously performed by a person, envision the new role the person can play in the process. For example, General Motors in 2018 installed robots to work alongside people in its plants, with the robots doing dirty work like stacking tires and applying hot glue to car interiors. The people that used to do those jobs have been trained to monitor the machines and perform the fine finishing work.

  2. Train people to work with smart machines. Amazon famously is automating its fulfillment centers and would seem a prime example of a company that would be eliminating jobs. However, in July 2019 it announced a $700 million program to retrain a third of its workforce for “IT support roles, such as managing the machines that operate throughout the facilities.” This is not altruism on Amazon’s part; it either trains and reskills its workforce or it will confront “a dire talent shortage.”

  3. Automate people management. Workforce management is a critical part of the machine-first approach to digital transformation, and helping people succeed in an automated environment – training them and giving them data they need – improves productivity, boosts employee retention, and increases engagement. At FedEx, which has automated picking, packing and shipping in its warehouses, workers – still needed for smaller and irregularly-shaped items robots can’t manage – are algorithmically deployed to ensure employee safety and increase productivity.

Digital transformation is not a technology initiative; it is a people plus technology endeavor. People possess deep institutional understanding of the enterprise, and a business that loses that knowledge of its history and character – its raison d’etre – can never succeed, no matter how smart its tools and software. This is why companies are investing in their people even as they invest in new technology.

Not only is that the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.

Ram Subramanian is global head of TCS’ human capital management practice. He is the co-author of the article “The Crucial Role of People in a World of Extreme Automation” in Volume 12 of Perspectives, the TCS management journal.  

About the author(s)
Ram Subramanian
Global Head, HCM Practice

Ram has with over 25 years of experience, including general management of mid to large size organizations, corporate development, product development, business operations, and Strategy. An energetic and passionate leader, he has been helping global corporations in all aspects of corporate HR, Finance, training, talent management, recruiting, leadership, and digital workplace technology.

He serves as a personal coach to HR and business leaders across the world to help them setup and extract the best out of their corporate talent, maximizing their potential, and developing cognitive solutions to improve their ‘belongingness’ to the company. His professional goal is to help make work life better: better for individuals, better for organizations, and better for communities and stakeholders.

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