According to a new PwC report, 84 percent of business leaders state that implementing automation at scale will become necessary for companies to be successful by 2022. For businesses, automation works in twofold by freeing up resources and allowing staff to take on higher-value, more ROI-driven work that they once may not have had time for.
Digital Journal: How important is automation becoming for the typical business?
Lane Lillquist: Automation is already playing an important role in making companies' business processes more efficient. Companies that don't adapt are going to slowly lose their ability to compete in the market. Any task that is standardized and repeated frequently is an opportunity for automation. Machines, computers, and databases have made many automations possible over the last several decades and are nowhere near their maximum potential. Compound that with the fact that AI is helping solve a new class of problems that further increase the impact that automation is having on businesses.
DJ: What efficiencies does automation create?
Lillquist: Most, if not all business processes, tend to include a number of simple, yet time-consuming tasks, such as the identification of keywords in documents. These activities are low-value relative to the human resources normally staffed to facilitate such tasks. Applying AI-enabled technologies to automate these kinds of activities is a win-win. The tasks tend to be performed more efficiently and consistently, and the work output itself is usually higher quality because the potential for human error has been removed as a potential factor. Finally, the human capital that was previously allocated to handling these tasks is now freed to focus on the more complex aspects and value judgements of a process, generating even greater business value.
DJ: What advantages can AI deliver?
Lillquist: Today's AI is a "weak" or "narrow" technology, and is likely going to continue to be the case for the next five years, meaning that AI's application to businesses will continue to be towards accomplishing narrow and specific tasks, such as finding terms in a set of documents or filling out certain forms. That being said, AI's present capability meets a large need in the corporate space by automating a number of high-volume, recurring tasks that would otherwise take people's focus away from more meaningful work. This leads to greater process efficiencies, improved accuracy, and generally lower operational and opportunity costs associated with allocating human resources to higher value tasks.
DJ: How can return on investment for both automation and AI be assessed?
Lillquist: Return on investment can be measured by defining the benefits that automation and AI can bring to existing processes and establishing key metrics and specific benchmarks tied to current performance. Some metrics may not be as obvious as others, such as task-switching. Once implemented, return on investment can be assessed by actively tracking and reporting on key metrics.
DJ: Will automation and AI lead to job losses?
Lillquist: Rather than replacing jobs, AI will require people to possess an increasing number of skills in order to make use of such technology and remain competitive in the market. Humans will always play a meaningful role in business processes that are enhanced by AI, as it is not capable of providing creative thought. AI will also create new types of jobs.
DJ: What new work opportunities will arise from these aspects of digital transformation?
Lillquist: We're already seeing a rise of legal technology companies providing alternative legal services backed by AI and machine learning that are enhancing how lawyers practice law. Law firms will begin building their own engineering departments and product teams, too. This latest wave of technology will require the creation of more and more data analytics jobs that can tap into legal and business datasets created and generate actionable insights to improve the practice of law.