Raging With (Not Against) The Machine

Emmanuelle Brun Neckebrock

In 2014, a Japanese venture capital firm became the first company in history to appoint a robot to its board. The robot got the job because its artificial intelligence (AI) can predict market trends faster than humans, and in time, it will get an equal vote on financial decisions made by the firm. And as I type this, the Associated Press is using AI across 4,000 computers to generate news stories on corporate earnings. Using raw data, the system churns out stories that sound like they were written by a human.  It’s enough to make you question whether we humans will become surplus to requirements.

But a doomsday demise of the human workforce isn’t in the cards just yet. We are seeing many low-impact use cases where machine learning and AI are being used as augmentation tools, improving the efficiency of everyday jobs, enhancing tasks, providing new or unique alternatives, or helping to find better processes and procedures to meet end goals.

Adapting the skills of the workforce

For example, machines can search through CVs and match skillset requirements or reconcile purchase orders and invoices much faster and more accurately than humans. It’s an issue we are experiencing firsthand at SAP, because we use our own technology in-house, including machine learning and AI, to help bridge connected products, assets, infrastructure, and people – which of course has a direct impact on internal roles. While it’s the job of technology to make us more efficient, it’s the job of employers to develop and adapt the skills of their workforce in the context of this new augmented environment.

It’s something we’re pioneering at SAP in France. We are job-mapping different role categories within finance that might be at risk of being affected. We are anticipating what shrinkage we can foresee because of these new automated efficiencies, what reskilling and people development need to take place, and what actions we (as employers) should be taking now.

Working in conjunction with ESSEC Business School, we are creating a structured HR development initiative, designed to offer a corporate function – around training, personal targets, and broadening skills against the backdrop of a machine-learning, AI-driven work environment. Upon completion, a certification is awarded for those who go through the program. It’s not just important for the long-term benefit of our employees, but also for SAP as a company.

A recent survey led by SAP France and The Boson Project found that 50% of today’s skills will be obsolete within two years, and by 2030, 60% of jobs that recruiters will be looking to fill do not currently exist. We see that as both a huge opportunity and great responsibility.

Positively embracing machines

As CFO, my goal in spearheading this type of initiative is to help reduce uncertainty and provide clear leadership to show how we can positively embrace machines to make our transactional tasks easier and elevate our respective skill sets in the process. I am proud that this is something SAP in France is developing. In my 18 years at SAP, I have been proud to have witnessed a huge change in the importance placed on training and development, and we’ll share more about that in future posts.

There is so much potential for AI development that it’s getting harder to imagine a future without it. Of course, there will inevitably be growing pains as AI technology evolves, but the positive effect it will have on business and wider society is immeasurable. The very premise of AI technology is its ability to continually learn from the data it collects. As humans, we’d do well to do the same.

For more on AI in the enterprise, see Teaching Machines Right from Wrong.

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Emmanuelle Brun Neckebrock

About Emmanuelle Brun Neckebrock

Emmanuelle Brun Neckebrock is CFO of SAP France. With more than 20 years’ experience, she is responsible for the coordination of SAP activities in France linked to acquisition and integration. She has recently taken over the responsibility of developing the healthcare sector within SAP France with a mission of actively promoting digital transformation in healthcare. Emmanuelle holds a degree in Finance from HEC Paris. Her blogs discuss the strategic challenges and topical issues facing CFOs.