Advancements in automation: why AI won’t replace the human touch

This is a guest blog post by Larry Augustin, CEO, Sugar CRM

The way we engage with technology is changing constantly and there’s hardly a day that goes by where we don’t hear about Artifical Intelligence (AI) and the ‘rise of machines.’ While mature AI-related technologies are still in their infancy, it’s a fact that workplace automation is already here across all sectors. From farming to fashion, businesses are using automation to reduce costs and pick up the pace of production. A report from PwC earlier this year claims that in the next 15 years, 30% of jobs in the UK could be affected by automation, with 46.4% of manufacturing jobs and 56.4% of storage jobs being automated by the early 2030s. Despite these high figures, PwC argues that for the most part, automation will enhance productivity, cut costs and add real value to sectors that depend on intelligent human interaction.

AI requires machines learning. And, to do so, machines needs data – lots of it. But, humans are also becoming better at their jobs because of the weath of data out there that gives us a universe of information whenever, wherever. We need only to turn to the likes of Google to see how data driven applications have re-invented the way we exist, and all this free information has improved the way businesses operate. But getting the right data fast can be a cumbersome process – after all, not all data is good data. The good news is that help is at hand and technology is advancing to help automate the most lengthy and mundane of data entry tasks.

The evolution of  CRM

Technology has always progressed at dizzying rate. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore coined the term Moore’s law, which predicted that the overall processing power of a computer would double every two years. Although technology has far surpassed Moore’s predictions, the basic premise remains the same – that technology by its very nature will continually advance.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have not followed Moore’s prediction. For a long time, legacy CRM was stuck as online record keeping systems that was good for generating reports and telling how effective you were last quarter, but didn’t do a lot to help you improve in the future. Finally, with more data, analytcs and automation, the evolution of CRM has enabled businesses to streamline data to get optimum results. It has evolved from somewhat a cumbersome platform to a productivity enabler, providing relationship intelligence and bringing in data from outside source sand it’s something we’ve been proud to bring to the market in our own recent launch of Sugar Hint. Ultimately, it’s about automating mundane tasks, allowing humans to focus on tasks that only humans at present can do.

The importance of human interactions

Despite the rapid growth of technology, a report by Gartner outlines that 89% of companies now believe that the customer experience they can offer is the most important benchmark by which they are judged. It’s a figure that encapsulates the vital role that humans still have in the workplace. Although data can be effectively sorted by a machine in under a millisecond, humans are the ones who implement technology and give it meaning.

In the context of AI and chatbots managing customer interactions, there are some benefits in using computer power to handle high volume tasks – like in e-commerce. But I’d argue that in high value situations – car sales or investment banking for example – people still want to deal with people. Where the technology comes in, is in supporting humans in giving them the information they need intelligently at a time they need it. It complements the job, rather than replacing it.

What will become of humans?

The rise of automation will reinvent traditional business practices. We don’t need to sit and cower in fear of a global AI takeover, we need to understand how automation will enable us as humans to do more of what we do best: being human. Automating menial tasks such as data sorting and emailing will enable businesses to re-work the goalposts of traditional jobs. Technology will be the enabler that allows employees to focus on their own skillsets. A report by Accenture maintains that 80% of businesses believe that technology will enable a more fluid workforce. It would seem that if we get automation to do the groundwork, employees, employers and customers will all see positive benefits.

History is littered with prophesises that automation will make humans redundant. We need only to turn to the First Industrial Revolution where textile Luddites were concerned that machines would take their jobs and steal their livelihoods. But, with hindsight we can see these advancements only enhanced the workers lives and increased productivity. As we now enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution this fear again has once again come into play. Although there will be a marked increase in automation, technology will aid businesses and employees – making for a better employee and a more successful business.