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Automation is often framed as humans vs. machines. What piece of the strategy of employing humans and machines is most critical to achieving a balance?

Automation is often framed as humans vs. machines. What piece of the strategy of employing humans and machines is most critical to achieving a balance?

Focusing on flexible automation, harnessing design thinking and taking stock of human capital first are among the steps executives in Protocol's Braintrust recommend.

Good afternoon! Everyone knows how important automation can be to a business, but different strategies around deploying it can produce vastly different results. This week, we asked the Braintrust to think about the best ways to build an automation strategy that balances humans and machines, focusing on the operational realities that separate the good projects from the bad. Want more Braintrust? Check out the Protocol | Enterprise special edition from earlier this week on hybrid cloud scalability.

Dr. Seth Dobrin

Vice President Data and AI, Chief Data Officer, Cloud and Cognitive Software at IBM

Most businesses working to integrate AI and automation into their workflows will tell you the technologies aren't silver bullets. I see too many companies that try to implement AI and automation projects without a clear strategy in place. Sadly, their endeavors often fall short because they don't clearly define their purpose, set overly ambitious goals or deploy before they're ready to provide value.

One way we're working to tackle that problem is by launching a new design thinking process, AI Essentials delivered through IBM Garages, tailored specifically to clients looking to embed AI and automation in their business. Through the process, we help organizations set business intents, identify needs, evaluate resources and take concrete actions by using statements of intents as a guide for the technical implementation.

We're excited to help our customers break past the cycle of "analysis paralysis" in the deployment process through constant observations, reflections and changes — providing the reasoning and proper steps to never feel like the AI is "flying blind." We know that transferring AI intents empowers everyone in an organization, from the CIO to the data scientists to the model validators, to stay completely aligned on the purpose and expectations for the model. As AI and automation adoption continue to take off, thinking critically during the design process will be an essential part of strategy-setting, helping business build a better partnership between humans and machines.

Melonee Wise

CEO at Fetch Robotics

Today, many business leaders overseeing logistics, manufacturing and supply chain operations are experiencing major fluctuations in demand for their products while simultaneously facing labor shortages in their facilities — a longstanding industry pain point that was exacerbated by COVID-19. Deploying automation can be a smart strategy for organizations to address these challenges, but only if approached in a thoughtful manner.

With increased demands on facilities and less physical manpower to tackle everyday tasks, businesses should look toward flexible automation solutions that can be deployed quickly and can adapt to changing facility needs. Choosing flexible automation solutions such as autonomous mobile robots allows organizations to implement new technology quickly without the time and expense that often accompany traditional fixed automation solutions. Since flexible automation can be deployed with minimal internal and external resources, it enables organizations to feel confident with their investment in money and time while allowing them to remain nimble enough to scale their automation footprint up or down as needed.

Alongside ease of deployment, organizations should also consider the impacts of automation solutions on employee safety. There are a wide variety of industry safety standards that govern automation technology, and organizations should conduct thorough safety assessments before making any final purchase.

John Kucera

SVP of Product Management for Einstein Automate at Salesforce

We as humans have the capacity for creative thought unparalleled by artificial intelligence or automation. We are uniquely talented at using judgement to make hard decisions, as well as to delight customers and build meaningful relationships. Computers are not capable of these essential human characteristics, so it's really about changing the narrative from one of fear or hesitation to one of opportunity.

The beauty of automation technology in the enterprise is that it removes the dull, draining tasks from our plates, and often lessens the room for error. In fact, 70% of business leaders spend about one to three hours per day on mundane tasks, which equates to an entire week and a half per month for managers and executives to focus on productivity. By 2024, organizations will lower operational costs by 30% by combining automation technologies with redesigned operational processes. This means that it might be more costly to delay creating and deploying an automation strategy

Less repetition increases employee happiness, which can have long-term returns on revenue and productivity. Nearly nine out of 10 executives at high-performing companies say better employee experience directly leads to better customer experience.

The fact is, we are all crunched for time, especially as many of us work from home. Automation enables everyone to get back much needed time, drive ROI and focus on what really matters – the pursuit of what fulfills us and makes us feel more human.

Read more in my Protocol op-ed about how to design a world where intelligent automation and humans co-exist.

Mihir Shukla

CEO and Co-Founder at Automation Anywhere

When businesses get it right, the best of our human capabilities are augmented by technology to create efficiencies and innovations never imagined. Those who use intelligent automation solely to cut costs or save time may not be using the technology as effectively as possible and risk missing the bigger picture: Humans and bots are meant to create a symbiotic relationship greater than the sum of its parts.

Some fear that work will be further dehumanized — people will become cogs in automated processes, working at a pace and to a style that suits machines rather than human workers. But bots are tremendous at tackling tedium — operating 24/7 with unrivaled accuracy. Bots free humans to focus on the creative work, strategic thinking and empathy that people do best — unlocking efficiency in businesses and making work more human. When automating, organizations need to start with people first, and find ways for bots to be digital assistants for all.

Every industry is embracing intelligent automation to ease the pain caused by a surge in manual processes during COVID-19. Companies must leverage RPA to prepare for the automation-driven world of the future, to be resilient and remain agile. I believe a company's greatest assets are its people, and they should be doing their best work. Automation not only improves operations and productivity, but also aids employee retention, satisfaction and creativity.

This is the true mission of RPA: unleashing workers from monotony, freeing time for creativity and ensuring that employees are no longer relegated to being "robots." We must make work human.

Sagi Eliyahu

Co-Founder & CEO at Tonkean

Deciding which tasks in a given process to automate is a matter of balancing skill sets. Certain tasks require skills — such as empathy — that are unique to humans. At the same time, there exist many tasks that technology is better suited for, and that prove draining for humans to manage.

Take for example answering customer support tickets. Here, chatbots are commonly employed to automatically handle routine requests, such as account access. That's an ideal application of automation technology, because such requests are repetitive and don't require core human qualities. Moreover, if a human were to spend all day resetting passwords, they'd be less effective when called upon to do more demanding work. On the other hand, if chatbots are used to handle a sensitive issue from a disgruntled customer, their robotic response will likely exacerbate the issue. What the customer needs is a human capable of empathy. The effective enterprise process designer lends credence to these competing needs and realities.

Automation technology is also a tool for augmenting and accentuating human skill sets. In order for a customer support agent to provide the best possible experience to their disgruntled customer, they need not only empathy, but quick access to account data and relevant help resources. If they have to chase those things down on their own, that diminishes their ability to service the customer.

Automation technology, as it happens, can get the employee that information in seconds — and extend their capabilities in the process.


See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Feb. 11, 2021).
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