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Businesses that make human workforce development a key part of their adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will achieve more significant profits than those that don’t.
Research from London’s Goldsmiths University found that manufacturers are leading the way when it comes to combining humans and automation technology.
While investing in automation and AI technologies can cut costs and increase productivity dramatically, there is more to be gained if organisations focus on up-skilling staff that are freed from the tasks being automated.
The research looked at the differences in performance between organisations that exclusively focus productivity gains from technology and those that focus on the technology and the human workforce.
It found that a hyper-productive environment can be achieved if organisations enable humans and robots work together.
Chris Brauer, director of innovation in the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths University, lead the research.
“In the public discussion, there has been an assumption that [humanity and automation] are in conflict in that in pursuing higher levels of performance and productivity in an organisation through technology you would have to sacrifice humanity,” he said. “But this does not follow from anything we have learned.”
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He said this is also true in previous periods of rapid technological advance. “In the past, if you take on any technology to augment your workforce at the expense of your workforce, you don’t succeed. This has always been the case through any industrial revolution.”
But businesses often miss out the human part of their automation strategies. “Getting humans to do jobs they are good at and technology to do jobs it is good at is often missed,” said Brauer.
The research, which was sponsored by supplier Automation Anywhere, found that businesses that invest in the technology and their people achieve 28% higher overall performance, have 31% better financial performance, and are 30% more likely to prioritise strategic goals.
“The introduction of the technology creates huge opportunities for the workers and organisations to leverage the power if the technologies. But in order to get this, organisations have to focus training the workforce and preparing them to occupy the roles that will emerge,” said Brauer.
Keeping staff engaged and fulfilled is vital. “If you don’t have a happy workforce that is motivated to help the organisation succeed, you are not going to succeed.
Manufacturers most prepared for AI
The study revealed that manufacturers are leading the way. The sector was the most prepared for AI and RPA based augmentation.
Over 70% of manufacturing respondents said their company was open to new technologies. Employee engagement was highest amongst manufacturers with 80% working closely with employees when automation is introduced.
A total of 71% of manufactures think automation has had a beneficial impact on employees, with 79% agreeing it has freed up employee time and 71% that automation has increased human effectiveness.
Brauer recommended four things organisations should focus on if they are going to truly benefit from automation: have a learning culture with continuous employee development; create the right mindset through a programme to help the workforce embrace the new way of working; continuously engage with employees; and take the right ethical approach to automation to ensure the technology does what it should, including understanding bias and how algorithms function.