People Vs. Machine: Where Do We Fit In The Future Of Tech?

Richard Chatterton

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), deep learning, robotic process automation (RPA), and other types of automation and their underlying technologies are reaching unprecedented levels of advancement and adoption. Digital transformation is one of the key business issues in 2019.

It is no longer the future; it is now. Embedding digital technologies into a transformation strategy is fundamental to any organization’s long-term success. Those that delay digital adoption risk of being left behind as digital transformation spreads throughout competing companies, industries, and geographies.

Technological enhancements are supposed to make life easier by creating procedural and operational efficiencies and reducing the number of routine tasks that humans are required to perform. It has been publicised for some time that application of these developing technologies can replace multiple and various routine tasks which would have previously been undertaken by humans.

It all sounds very promising, but what about your workers?

The workforce and employee engagement

Employee engagement can be defined as the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their place of work. High employee engagement has been shown to result in significant positive benefits for businesses, including (but not limited to) higher employee retention, a better customer experience, and greater productivity.

Maintaining high levels of employee engagement and fostering a culture based on the alignment of the fundamental values between employer and employee are key drivers of success. In recent years, we have experienced an increasing awareness and emphasis on staff welfare and its associated benefits.

Aon Hewitt, a global leader in strategic human resource consulting services, employs the following engagement model as a foundation for its 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement annual global employee engagement study (note that the basics are at threat from the emerging technologies discussed above).

What does digital transformation mean for businesses and the workforce?

Studies show that there is more worry than enthusiasm surrounding the emergence of digital technologies. Pew Research Internet shows that people are roughly twice as likely to express worry (72%) than enthusiasm (33%) about a future in which robots and computers can perform many of the jobs that are currently done by humans.

Here are some key focus areas:

  • Identify the opportunities for employees: Redeploy and retrain resources: Communicate the upward growth opportunities for employees who can spend time on more complex tasks, and build this into your strategy.
  • Redefine business processes: Business processes must undergo fundamental analysis and potential re-engineering to provide quality and meaningful work based on a complementary environment between humans and technology.
  • Involve the appropriate people: Employees, especially those involved in the process, can play a fundamental role in the strategic alignment, by identifying opportunities and providing insight for areas of application and assisting with the transition.
  • Focus on safety and security: Emphasise the fact that automation, robotics, and technology can alleviate the physical burden on humans while providing a more effective and safer work environment.

The bottom line

Many software providers are investing heavily in the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning to perform certain tasks as well as, or better than, humans, such as recognising images and validating content against huge amounts of data. Technologies such as Detect, which leverages AI, ML, and Big Data to perform automated audit services on employee spend, will continue to utilise a human element for validation of exceptions and to identify and manage outcomes such as false positive results and anomalies that technology itself won’t be able to process.

For now, human interaction will still be required in partnership with technology, and those organisations that manage the relationship between the two will be most likely to succeed with their digital transformation strategy.

For more on developing your digital business strategy, see “Using The Economics Value Curve To Drive Digital Transformation.”

Richard Chatterton

About Richard Chatterton

Richard Chatterton is senior solutions consultant at SAP Concur, based in Sydney, Australia. Richard is a full member of the institute of Chartered Accountants ANZ and has over 10 years of commercial finance experience across various industries as a finance and accounting manager and senior finance systems analyst in organizations ranging from private equity to ASX listed. Richard's areas of expertise are finance operating models, processes, and alignment with the associated systems. His interest in technology and digital transformation has seen him lead a number of global finance system implementations, integrations, and application upgrades. His current role at SAP provides the opportunity to promote the intelligent enterprise as part of the SAP Cloud Business Group.