Over the last year or so, we have begun to see a discernible shift in the public discourse about how automation will affect work. From the early, often dire, predictions about how many jobs will be destroyed by automation, we are now seeing broader recognition that automation affects the component tasks of jobs in more nuanced ways. Automation affects tasks in one of three ways: substituting, augmenting or creating human work.
To strategically understand and optimize work automation organizations and their leaders must: (1) Deconstruct “jobs” and reconfigure the work; (2) Fully understand the range of work automation options (including robotic process automation, cognitive computing and social robotics); (3) Adopt a systematic step-by-step approach to identifying and executing on work automation opportunities.
Start with the Work, Not the “Job” or the Technology
Applying automation requires thinking outside the boundaries of traditional jobs, units, hierarchies and processes. The “organization” must be reconsidered as a hub and capital source for an ecosystem of work providers. Those “providers” include AI and automation, but also include “human” sources such as employees, contractors, freelancers, volunteers and partners. As noted above, the optimal combination of these providers seldom appears if you frame the question as, “in which jobs will AI replace humans?” Perhaps the wholesale replacement of humans by AI or robots is 50 years away for some “jobs,” but when you look within those jobs the actual effects are substantial and will occur much faster. Optimal decisions about AI and automation reveal themselves only when you deconstruct and reconfigure the work elements within the jobs.