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Automation nation: is it a threat or an opportunity for businesses? Here’s a hint, it’s the latter!

Automation nation: is it a threat or opportunity for businesses? Here’s a hint, it’s the latter!

Is it good for businesses? What does it mean for current employees? Should we fear the technology? These are just some of the topics we discussed at the Daily Telegraph’s Connect panel. Joined by Tabitha Goldstaub, Co-Founder of an AI Market Intelligence Platform and Ian Watson, the chief executive of an SME employing automation, it was a fascinating and lively discussion exploring the ins and outs of automation and its impact on the world.

Immediately addressing the automation elephant in the room, we looked at the hot topic on everyone’s minds – will the rise of automation lead to a mass loss in jobs? There are many differing opinions on this but my, and Fujitsu’s, opinion is that automation is not about replacing humans. For any business, people are its most important resource, the heart of it, where almost every single process begins and ends. Of course, automation is exciting and it offers many opportunities to businesses. All too often, people are being deployed in the wrong place within organisations – on tasks that are highly repetitive, time-consuming and on many occasions just plain menial. This is where automation should come into its own. It enables them to focus on higher value activities and improves their working life and contribution to their business. Also most of the research into this topic ignores the huge job creation aspect of the debate where new roles are being created and are in high demand. These include data scientists, software engineers and cognitive engineers, just to name a few.

Moving into the next generation of work, for the next generation of workers

Automation will free up workers to focus on more complex and interesting tasks thus moving job roles away from the mundane to much more satisfying aspects. This is the type of innovation that the younger generation will expect to thrive in, and businesses that can embrace this change will instantly benefit. However, work is still to be done to upskill staff and integrate the technology itself into everyday practices that we all use. Our own Social Command Centre is already transforming the way we work at Fujitsu. The AI-driven hub contains an omnipresent virtual assistant that can solve basic IT problems but even book a flight and hotel for you.

There are two main reasons why we introduced the innovative Command Centre. Firstly, to lighten the load on our workers and show them that automation will increase mobility in the workplace. But also to show that we are not exempt from digital disruption and see the importance of updating our own processes to fit the needs of our employees and customers. Our research launched last year found that the majority of business leaders say their business will not exist in their current form in five years’ time; this is actually a point that I made during the event that carried on the conversation amongst some of the other people! Clearly, businesses must collaborate along with tech experts to comprehend how automation can be applied, in order to improve both their own services and the roles they offer the future workforce.

Why fear automation when we have been using it for years

What’s funny is that automation is a technology that has actually been around for some time now. Granted, some applications are still being developed. Over in America, a newly created robot, called Nigel, has been designed to help voters make informed decisions when casting their ballot. Yes, there are very tricky nuances when it comes to politics and AI but the tech is constantly being tested and trialled and that can only be a good thing.

A more familiar use of automation can be found in Waze. Launched in 2006, the application has had over 6.5 million downloads on the Google app store (at time of writing) and uses real-time traffic information and an intuitive algorithm to calculate the best route from point a to point b. Is this an incredibly beneficial use of automation and AI? Yes. Is this something that we should fear? No – quite obviously not by the fact that people have been using it for over a decade.

To revert back to the three questions at the beginning: Is automation good for businesses? Yes. What does it mean for current employees? Greater satisfaction in the day job. And should we fear the technology? Clearly not. We are on the cusp of something great. We shouldn’t ask ourselves: will automation impact business? But: when will it do so? And those that don’t prepare are only setting themselves up for failure.

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