The stuff of speculative fiction, consciously or not, seems to drift into conversations about the assimilation of artificial intelligence (AI) into the workplace. Surely you must have it heard it said that human jobs will be taken over by machines with business decisions dictated by AI super computers, right?
Well, getting back down to earth, many executives do believe that leveraging AI is a positive way to make business even more productive and efficient. In fact, in a recent SAP Cloud ERP C-level AI Readiness study of 2,500 global C-level executives and business leaders, 69% agree with that line of thinking.Yet, to many of the rank-and-file workers, it is a scary thought fueled by worry that their livelihood may somehow be negatively affected, such as job loss.
But fear not. AI will not spawn a “Rise of the Machines” scenario akin to SkyNet that created The Terminator designed to self-learn ways to retire the human race once and for all. Tongue-in-cheek aside, AI has the potential to elevate the human workforce into jobs far less routine and much more meaningful.
More Time, More Value
It cannot be denied that the future of the workforce willbe impacted by AI to one degree or another. Referring to the aforementioned survey, 87% of those polled believe that AI will play a role in the survival of their business over the next five years with 56% saying that AI technologies will transform current jobs. Still, experts disagree when it comes to putting their finger on the jobs that will be affected, and to what extent. We can all accept that AI will generally change the way the intelligent enterprise operates from the top down. The good news is that, more specifically, it will also drive the elimination of routine and repetitive tasks– not the wholesale elimination of jobs, or people, from the workplace. Themajority of the business leaders surveyed support this assertion since less than a third polled feel that AI technologies will replace current jobs altogether.
Employees will, in fact, have more time to devote to tasks that add greater value to the business, and are more meaningful to them individually. Not only that, this new reality will also createjobs. For example, there will be a need for human specialists to develop AI-driven systems and operate them efficiently. We will see completely new jobs evolving, facilitated by the upskilling of current talent and the hiring of digital natives.
The Workforce and the Workplace
Some veteran professionals may remember there once existed a long-held standard that a company’s most important asset was its people. It was the employees after all who helped define an organization’s culture, provided unique insight, and offered ideas to help drive corporate success. But those kinds of companies are gone with the wind, with the proud exception of SAP and maybe a handful of others. Nevertheless, the paradigm has shifted. Data is now an organization’s most prized asset in today’s era of digital transformation and has become the new kingmaker – influencing products and services, improving UX, updating brands, and even (dare I say) affecting elections.
“The goal should be for man and machine to complement each other in the workplace, with machines supporting human work.” ~Luka Mucic, SAP Chief Financial Officer
First, let’s state up front that tasks and jobs are two different things. We know that jobs are made up of many tasks. Industries will be impacted by AI because taskswill be automated. Not jobs. That means that people’s jobs will become easier because the automation of repetitive tasks will enable these workers to spend their time efficiently on work that is more engaging, challenging, fulfilling, and creative.
As technology advances and menial tasks are taken over by machines, newengagements for people will be created, including the management and analysis of insights garnered from that technology. So, again, new professions will be created for people. But business leadership will need to support that by upskilling the current workforce and recruiting the next generation of new talent – which leads into what I want to talk about next.
A Culture of Innovation vs a Climate of Uncertainty
Human staff workers aren’t the only ones who suffer from AI anxiety attacks. Business leaders do, too. But they don’t need to. Cliché sounding as it may be, leadership should come to embrace it. By doing so, they can leverage AI to create a culture of innovation.
Leaders themselves must step up by committing and investing in company-wide upskilling/hiring initiatives to ensure that the addition of AI to the workforce enhances – or augments – human skills and capabilities. Without a doubt, upskilling and retraining can further add to the employee’s value to the business – all of which will be essential as AI becomes part of the workplace. In fact, 74% of the executives surveyed think upskilling staff is vital for success over the next three years, while 61% agree that bringing in new digital native talent will be critical to success as well. Such signals are very encouraging for the human workforce.
AI presents a wealth of opportunities for the intelligent enterprise to increase efficiencies and effectiveness utilizing current staff while potentially creating entirely new jobs as technologies advance. Truly, it will be up to senior leaders to inspire a workplace culture where these technologies are embraced and applied without fear by everyone in the company. Luckily for all of us humans, 73% of the business leaders surveyed agree as they are increasing access to digital skills and expertise across their organizations to support the deployment of AI– thereby giving the human workforce a future to rise and thrive within the intelligent enterprise.