The holidays might imply relaxation, but it seems everyone’s to-do list gets longer during this time of year.
The shopping, the parties, the cooking, the decorating — it’s enough to make us wish we had personal robots to help lighten the load. Come to think of it, we already do — sort of.
The fact is that we live in a world driven by automation — an amalgam of technologies that streamline and simplify many aspects of our existence. All season long, we sit comfortably in our homes warmed by smart thermostats, streaming It’s a Wonderful Life on-demand and commanding our digital assistants to play Michael Bublé. It’s all enabled by automation. Beyond the endless list of consumer conveniences, we can also thank automation for important developments in industries like food, healthcare and enhanced finance. Automation has become so ubiquitous and integrated into the fabric of our lives that it’s easy to take for granted how far we’ve come in such a short time.
So as I reflect on the past year, I’ve decided to count automation among my many blessings. While I’m still waiting for a service that tells me exactly what gift to get my wife, I’m thankful for the many positive ways automation has already changed our world, and I’m excited to see what the next wave of developments could be.
Automation makes our lives easier.
You may not give it much thought, but much of your holiday season has already been automated — and I believe that’s a good thing. Automation and other technologies help you travel to see your family — from comparing prices on plane tickets to security and baggage handling at the airport to the actual flight itself (paywall). Automation lets you shop for presents online instead of braving the crowded stores. Automation may even help make your family feast possible, from the supply chain that produces and packages your store-bought ingredients to the highly monitored water you use to wash the dishes.
All year long, automation is making many aspects of our daily lives easier, safer, more affordable and more enjoyable. Thanks to ingenious applications of automation, many companies are streamlining business processes to improve their products and services and bring us faster, more personalized, hassle-free customer experiences.
While naysayers claim that automation is stealing jobs from real people, optimists see a long-term opportunity to elevate the role of human workers to achieve higher-value and more fulfilling careers. Moreover, the rise of automation could create unprecedented demand for employees with the skills to create and manage these technologies. Research from the World Economic Forum (via Forbes) estimates that automation will create 58 million net new jobs in the next few years.
Automation makes us better at what we do.
Aside from freeing us from back-breaking labor and administrative drudgery, automation can also enhance our performance as humans.
In many cases, automated solutions are employed to take over repetitive, high-volume tasks that make people bored or tired but that are nonetheless important. Bots can often do these jobs faster and more accurately, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re putting humans out of work. Instead, automated systems can serve as digital assistants to real people. For example, one Forbes contributor explained that many customer service agents now have access to information that helps them find answers and solve problems in less time. Consumers will be thankful for a speedy resolution when the cable TV goes out in the middle of the college bowl game.
More exciting is the fact that automation can give people more time to do what they were “meant” to do. An academic study from 2018 (commissioned by a robotic process automation software company) found that “organizations augmented by automation technologies are 33% more likely to be ‘human-friendly’ workplaces, in which employees are 31% more productive.” In other words, when companies use robots to handle the most robotic of tasks, they allow humans to hone the abilities that make humans human. Companies that employ automation should encourage their employees to think deeply, be more creative, collaborate on new ideas, build stronger relationships with their customers and lead teams more effectively.
With heightened interpersonal skills, they might find a way to get along with their in-laws during the holidays. If not, they could always send their digital twin to dinner as a stand-in.
However, there are several steps to consider before you introduce automation:
1. When you’re automating, focus on the impact the technology will make for your people.
2. Understand that you don’t automate people. You automate a process — which includes people. So, you should learn to manage a hybrid workforce.
3. Think of customer experience first and savings later. If you start only to save money, automation likely won’t be sustainable.
Automation could enable an amazing future.
At present, many business automation solutions exist in “islands.” They perform specific functions cut off from the rest of the organization. However, as automation, AI and machine learning capabilities continue to advance and integrate with one another, we could realize their true potential.
Beyond just accelerating existing business models, automation could allow companies to create entirely new ways of doing business, and — to think bigger — entirely new industries will likely emerge to spawn new jobs we’ve never considered. Fifteen years ago, who had ever heard of a social media manager, a cloud computing engineer or an AI copywriter? We can expect many more new roles to come in the years ahead.
Most importantly, automation will almost certainly unlock achievements that we humans could have never accomplished on our own — perhaps that could include wrapping a present without crumpling the paper or making an edible fruitcake. Earnestly, imagine a healthcare system that instantly analyzes every medical study ever written in order to identify a life-saving cure for a loved one.
A hundred years from now, who knows where technology will take the human race. But, as one of my clients recently asserted, someone might feel slighted if they call or text you and get your digital twin instead of the real thing. However, if companies find ways to use automation to continue to make the holidays less frantic, it’s a future we can all look forward to.