Recently, I have noticed an uptick in the anxiety over workflow automation and job destruction by technology. It's in the news, on blogs, on Facebook. In short, everywhere you look people seem to believe the robots are coming for their jobs. Well, if you are one of these people, I have good news and bad news for you. the bad news is you are right! The good news is you are right! There is no denying that companies are rapidly looking to automate processes and positions that traditionally have been labor intensive, slow, and tend to have quality control issues. This is because let's face it as people we can only concentrate on a mundane, or repetitive task for so long before our eyes glaze over and we become almost like automatons ourselves. The dawning reality of our lives is that the smarter computers become the more tasks they can take over and do for us like the steam-powered tractor did for the horses and oxen that were once used to plow the fields. BTW " I don't hear the Horses and Oxen complain!" Just something to think about. While the world is changing the truth is you do not have to be the guy writing the automation to avoid being automated out of a job (of course if you are all the better) Modern automation can bring with it new opportunities. What we need is to learn to work with the new technologies rather than fight against them. I realize that at first glance that sounds like every other hallow technocrat quote you have probably heard coming out of silicon valley but before you lump me in with those guys please hear me out. Technology does do not have to be the enemy, It can be a liberator. Most of us do not feel particularly fulfilled or even enjoy mindless repetitive tasks like data entry or placing widget A into Socket B over and over again. These are exactly the type of tasks computers and robots are great at. What this means is jobs will change, there is no way around that but it does not have to mean jobs will go away. I have been working in and around the automation field for many years and what my experience has taught me is that there are a lot of other things companies would like their employees to do that they often have to forgo due to budgetary restraints or manpower shortages. Many companies spend a lot of effort just keeping operations going and so lack the time and manpower to improve their processes. Many of these processes are exactly the sort of things computers are not so good at. What we have seen is that in many companies, rather than cutting the workforce when a role or job is automated those employees are put to use in other parts of the company or working on projects the company up to that point could not afford. A good example of this is one medical facility's billing and invoicing processes we recently(Lysi Data Labs) helped automate. The company had a dozen or so employees auditing their Medicare billing daily. This involved comparing and auditing reports and invoices line by line for hours a day. The work was monotonous and tedious and results were decidedly mixed as employees would get fatigued and became more prone to mistakes the longer they were at the task. Many employees dreaded this task and the turnover rate (at the time we were called in the average employee stayed for only 4.5 months) was the worst in the entire company. We were able to all but eliminate this process reducing the amount of manpower required to a single employee working about an hour and a half a day, and with an error rate near .2% saving the company several million a year in billing errors. The company then used those savings and the freed up manpower to expand their customer service department and launch a new service branch providing in-home care for mobility challenged patients. Furthermore, the employee retention rate more than quadrupled to an average employee retention if 21.5 months. and more than half of those that did leave left to work in other parts of the company. What this illustrates is that Technology is not always the menace it is painted as in the fears and nightmares so often exploited by the media. There are things computers are good at and then there are things computers are less good at. Automation rather than just eliminating jobs can be a tool for liberating employees, freeing them up to take over more rewarding jobs that automation and computers can't do. The savings generated by automation can be reinvested in the company for growth and expansion generating yet more jobs. Is there a learning curve? Yes, of course, some employees had to learn new skills or new functions, but no more so then if they moved to another department voluntarily. In fact in our example, many who accepted the billing audit job did so hoping to get there foot in the door and then move on to roles in the company better suited to their skills sets, meaning the automation of the audit process provided them with the opportunity to find a job that better matched their skills and personality.
The conclusion I would like to draw here is that with every change and advancement there are risks and opportunities. Is automation going to change things? Yes, it will. But those changes do not have to be for the worst. Automation can open as many doors as it "automatically" closes and can lead workers to find even more rewarding jobs that stimulate there passions and creativity if they are willing to learn to work alongside the technology and step outside of there current job constraint box.