The potential of artificial intelligence to transform the workplace is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It’s a today reality that companies—and especially their executive teams and Human Resources (HR) leaders—are meeting head-on.
Dynamic technology innovations including machine learning and artificial intelligence are already changing the way companies operate, and redefining the very concept of work in the process. And while major technology breakthroughs that fundamentally reshape the workplace have a history of driving net job gains and improved employee satisfaction over the long term, the path is often complicated by short-term concerns or wake-me-when-it’s-over inertia.
Workforce automation, when thoughtfully designed and intelligently deployed, offers companies and their employees new levels of innovation and growth—and a next-generation competitive advantage. But to get there, company leaders should be forward-thinking about their HR strategies, and always mindful of their people.
Specifically, executives and HR leaders need to start planning today for long-term workforce shaping. Well-positioned companies are developing a comprehensive strategic view that contemplates the types of skills and people they’ll need over the next decade, the potential technology and automation systems those people will be using, and even the new ways those people will be working (cross-functional, virtual, contractors, part-time, “unretired,” etc.)
AI and intelligent automation feature a wide spectrum of potential business applications, and the right mix will be unique to each company. But there are some common guardrails to guide executives and HR leaders in their planning for an empowered workforce:
Along with the workforce, AI is reshaping the concept of enterprise technology, so avoid the trap of “legacy tech” thinking. Gone are the days of installing technology systems that served as fixed tools over a fixed lifecycle. Much of the technology coming online today is using AI to continually add capabilities and grow smarter over time. Think of it this way: When you buy technology, you're buying a popcorn kernel that will pop into greater capabilities and keep popping all over your organization. These technologies will enable people and the technology itself to steadily adapt and enhance.
Intelligent automation drives growth and long-term value—it’s about addition, not subtraction. The right strategy will enhance and empower a company’s workforce by automating and more efficiently delivering essential processes, nurturing employee skills and generally extending and growing the company’s overall capabilities. Focus first on the required skills, and the job titles and descriptions—whether tomorrow or in 5 years—will be the easy part.
Humans have been adapting to changes in the workplace for centuries—and they keep coming back to work, in greater numbers and with increasing ingenuity. People will always be the core asset of any business because of our unique ability to continually learn and to continually adopt new skills. HR leaders need to consider methods to keep that focus front-of-mind in their workforce planning. Invest in training, foster learning and cultivate people who are not satisfied by doing the same job they've been doing for 15 years.
Companies that approach workforce automation as a way to cut staff and save money do so at their peril because they will often find themselves needing to hire back more skills—at more expense. Organizations that focus on using automation to increase company value and create jobs will, in the long run, be the most successful. The rosy savings forecasts and “margin improvements” always look great in the PowerPoint slides, but they rarely play out.
The latest KPMG CEO Outlook report found that 80% of businesses plan to increase recruiting budgets and 58% are planning investment in automation technologies. Indeed, the CEO survey found that the vast majority of organizations were “sold” on the business case for AI and intelligent automation.
The next step, of course, is the biggest one: Execution. Properly integrating AI and automation into a growing and evolving workforce will require a comprehensive new approach to governance from executives and HR leaders. Organizations that can marry that governance with how they add people, enhance processes and upgrade skills will have a much greater chance of driving growth and return on investment.
In fact, much like their new intelligent automation technology, they will be setting up their own companies to continually grow and get smarter.
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The content first appeared on Forbes.