The dark spectre of automation

CIPD Head of Digital Ken Cooke looks at the tricky issue of automation

The dark spectre of automation

Automation – AAARRRGGHHH! There are many, justified, concerns around the opportunities technology brings to automate business processes and the impact that may have on people’s livelihoods. We can’t shy away from the fact that many of the roles that currently exist are ripe for automating to a greater or lesser extent, bringing a level of speed, standardisation and quality control we can’t deliver using humans with all our quirks and foibles. But does this mean many of us are due to be thrown out on the scrap heap – made obsolete in our own time?

Well, no. While automation will have a profound effect on many roles, it also offers great opportunities to free us from the mundane, repetitive aspects of our roles, to allow us to focus on areas our insight and imagination can truly add value. Recently we saw an AI defeat a human at the fiendishly complex game of Go, something considered a decade away only a year ago. However, I’m not sure whether we’ll see in our lifetimes any computer capable of coming up with the idea for the game in the first place.

The “Un-Seminar” event in March 2016 considered the question of the central importance of humans to businesses in a far more intelligent way than I’ll ever be able to portray. So rather than reinventing that wheel, if you’re interested in the thoughts that came from it you can read about it in this article: 'Re-imaging organisations'. But what does this mean on the ground?

Take the CIPD’s digital transformation programme — we’re actively pursuing the operational efficiencies we can get from technology, particularly within the CRM work we’re undertaking. Does this mean we’re actively pursuing a downsizing agenda? No, we’re not. I don’t think you’ll find anyone here who sits at their desk with spare time on their hands. We can all see things we could improve on if we could only free up some time to address it. This is one of the aims of this transformation work: to give people back the time to focus on the things that need improving, the things that will make a difference to members, customers, employees.

A few examples of some of the areas automation can help make improvements to or enable things that will make us easier to work with include:

  • Being more personal — as we better know who we’re dealing with and what they’re interested in, we can provide an improved, more relevant online experience.
  • Getting people through to the right person faster — if you’ve been dealing with someone then let’s put you straight through next time you call us rather than asking you to go through everything again with someone new.
  • Map communications as journeys — rather than sending out every single communication individually, mapping them as a sequence of communications that follow one from the other and react to how the recipient interacts with each element.

Many other opportunities will present themselves as the technology beds in and we understand better how to leverage all the capabilities we’re investing in. Overall, these will ultimately help to deliver a better customer experience and more fulfilling roles.