Automation and Innovation: A Force for Good in the Workplace of the Future

Konica_0917Few can deny the power of automation and the impact it has on daily activities. We put faith in it more than we know and depend on a seamless series of actions resulting in a desired outcome.  Think of the diabetic who sets an alert on their phone reminding them to take insulin. They set the time once and forget about it, trusting they’ll hear that beep at the time requested. Or, consider the marathon runner trying to log weekly miles. They turn on their tracker and hit the pavement expecting that their distance, time and even heart rate are captured through the duration of a run.

In both cases, I think it’s safe to say the perceived value is placed on the outcome, not the automated series of events leading to that point. And yet, without that automation, the outcome would not be achieved. Anyone else starting to see the value of this technology?

Nowhere is the role of innovation and automation more impactful than in the workplace of the future, a workplace not so far off and one that we all need to understand and embrace if we wish to stay relevant, competitive and sustainable.

The market is already rife with emerging technologies designed to automate any number of workplace processes. While some fear automation may be the beginning of the end, there is a lot of upside to focus on as well.

Think about it; organizations are streamlining resources more than ever and, despite leaner teams, the pressure to drive business forward is at an all-time high. Although we can’t add more hours in a day, we can use technology and automation in the workplace to our benefit.

Take artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, for example. According to a recent YouGov global survey of 11,000 consumers, 37 percent of respondents are concerned about the possibility of emerging technologies – like AI or robotics – replacing them or their colleagues in the workplace. Despite this, a resounding 27 percent believe up to a fifth of their daily tasks could be automated by these same innovations, resulting in more time to focus on other more creative endeavors like honing workplace skills, implementing process improvement, developing more creative and innovative approaches to day-to-day work, and enhancing communications and collaboration with colleagues. Interestingly, non-work related activities, like taking longer breaks, were the least popular among responses.

We believe in the power of innovation to drive value for all customers, and we see technology as an enabler, not a barrier, for growth and success. Unfortunately, as Dennis Curry, VP and director of Business Innovation and R&D Europe for Konica Minolta Business Solutions stated, “It appears that the approach to technology taken by many employers today is failing to prepare staff for the workplace of the future … Employees are feeling cautious when it comes to emerging technologies like AI and automation. This is a shame as it’s clear from our research that employees are keen to use time freed up by these technologies to engage in activities directly aligned with business efficiency and effectiveness.”

It’s evident the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics show no sign of slowing down. In fact, Janna Quitney Anderson, a professor at Elon University, predicts more and more of our work and personal tasks will be taken over in the next decade by cognitive systems, autonomous vehicles, bots and drones, as interconnectivity, data aggregation and analytics move forward. So should we panic, fearing our jobs will be lost to machines? Or, should we embrace it and use it to our benefit? I am going to go with the latter.

The reality is rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are streamlining the workflow of managers by outsourcing many of the routine and administrative tasks that get in the way of actually doing a great job. New AI tools will take on the ugly roles – the mundane, complicated and unpopular roles – that push creative work into the evening or weekend, when all your energy is nearly spent. Instead of scribbling strategy ideas between cab rides and presentations, you’ll be able to lead extensive brainstorms that spark genuine innovation and new solutions.

Beyond this, AI can also make you look good. The deep learning and predictive capabilities of machines allow you to access and leverage data quickly and easily. Your choices will be informed by a blend of hard facts and statistics along with experience, intuition and instinct. Traditional managerial qualities – good-judgment, self-assurance and quick-wit – will take on greater importance than multitasking or speed reading. Ultimately, by collaborating with machines, management skills will become smarter, more efficient and more effective through augmented, automatic decision making.

What’s more, teams of all shapes and sizes benefit from the role of automation and technology in the workplace. With the added element of time, managers can focus on employee growth and development. Rather than worrying about reports being filed in specific formats, teams can discuss more pressing issues, use energy for more creative executions and take time to learn something new.

As the workplace of the future evolves, the role of automation and innovation should not be feared. As the full potential of such technologies continues to unfold, we must embrace them and rest assured that AI will never compete with humans when it comes to intangible tasks like creativity and in-person collaboration, two aspects critical to continued growth and success in the workplace and beyond.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Workflow.

Hugo Palacios is director of Enterprise Content Management for Konica Minolta. He is responsible for four key areas: governance, marketing, key strategies and operational control for the company’s ECM practice. He also supports Konica Minolta’s Global Transformation Initiatives and is a key contributor to the global managed content services and ECM Business strategies.