Human capabilities will trump robots in the age of automation

9 Apr 2018

Image: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

To be productive in the age of automation, human skills as well as social and emotional capabilities will matter more than anything.

The future of work in a world of robots may not be as bleak for us humans after all, with a range of our skills pivotal for managing data and automation.

That’s the view of Rob Curley, managing director of digital consultancy Singlepoint.

‘Deep end-market intimacy will become the space of most demand, not the technology itself’

According to Curley, the pace at which technology changes has always led to skills gaps as organisations and staff attempt to keep up.

This, he says, is not a new issue but there is currently more impacting change than simply the advances in technology that are taking place.

“Because organisations do not have enough skills internally to do the jobs, we are seeing more and more companies coming together with universities, innovation centres and product vendors, facilitated by smaller specialist companies, to bring the technology process capability in-house. But there are still skillset gaps,” said Curley.

The impact of automation on the future of work

Human capabilities will trump robots in the age of automation

Singlepoint managing director Rob Curley. Image: Singlepoint

“The future of work will see successful companies with the ability to separate the things that can be automated, those rules that can be insulated from the emotional intelligence of people, from the actual executive action.”

According to Curley, the wider change is how we use the technology. It’s everywhere, and organisations rely on technology to enable their culture as well as develop their products. These strands all fall under the culture of an entire organisation rather than simply the skills required to create, manage or apply technology.

Curley explained that organisations have lots of data and information about people, for example, and they use that information for specific functions. What will happen in the future is that all of that information, under regulation, will be processed in a way that allows other decisions to be made.

People will focus on the priorities that the company sets, using the data they have within the business and exploiting the power of technology to execute.

“Technology, processes and culture are the areas that require different skillsets,” said Curley.

“Companies need to understand how they can make a difference with their business and their customers working together.

“To be productive, this new automation age will also require a range of human skills in the workplace, from technological expertise to essential social and emotional capabilities. It’s not about them and us, but very much one ecosystem. Being customer-enabled, businesses will have to acknowledge that an awful lot of automation is going to reduce the amount of, let’s say, labour-intensive work in favour of people making decisions that benefit its business.

“For example, there won’t be as many people processing CVs for employment but there will be a lot of focus on making sure that when they do look at CVs, they are looking at ones that are already relevant. Today and in the future, what we are asking our machines to do is to short-circuit the decision process – not to take away the qualification of the decision, but to make the decision more meaningful.”

Industry 4.0

Curley cites the industrial revolution as an era that was all about simplifying tasks that were done manually. What we are doing now is going beyond the production line and into the thinking that supports decisions.

“All the data that’s there needs to be processed in such a way that makes decision-making easier and makes it quicker by presenting the right information to the people making that decision.

“That’s where technology is going. It’s not going to replace people, it’s going to make the level of responsibility for the person much more around making decisions rather than just providing data to make decisions. Decision-making will still be held by the person.

“Powerful new technologies are increasing productivity, improving lives and reshaping our world.

“But what happens to our jobs? More skill will be required to make the most of what the machines can do for humans. People with business process skills that can understand the conditions, the dependencies, and anticipate the risks and contingencies [will be required]. Deep end-market intimacy will become the space of most demand, not the technology itself.

“It is the sectoral expertise that’s needed to intelligently drive priorities for business change. It is a ‘business process skill’ but a lot more expert and specific to the functions, applications, consequences of particular processes than just the generic ‘how to do something’ process. It is the level of expertise that can only be accumulated through iterations of experience.

“Combining that expertise with the power of technology, automation and artificial intelligence – that’s where enterprise must focus.

“You will still want the business or the professional to oversee the machine, but we will become a lot more focused on those things that need the decision,” Curley concluded.

“So, the rote of production line manufacturing is now being replicated in terms of business processes.”

Singlepoint will be holding a briefing on digital transformation on 12 April.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years