Automation And The Skills Gap

As the prowess of AI technologies has risen, it’s sometimes been hard to distinguish fact from fiction.  With so many apocalyptic headlines about robots taking our jobs, we should perhaps expect employees to be nervous about their prospects.  Except that isn’t really happening.

A survey conducted last year by Adecco found that most employees are optimistic about the impact AI will have on their work.  For instance, the majority thought that technology will not only make jobs easier, it will also take away many of the mundane tasks we have to perform, thus freeing us up for more enjoyable work. What’s more, in terms of job displacement, 65% of respondents thought that technology had increased the number of jobs available, with the majority believing this trend will continue into the future.

It’s a perspective shared by a survey undertaken by EY into enterprise level AI from earlier this year.  It found that 39% of senior executives thought that use of machine learning will grow considerably in 2018, with particular growth in the integration of AI into the business’ value chain.

“2018 could be a breakthrough year for more widespread AI adoption. As companies look to integrate AI into their operations, there is a particular opportunity with regards to robotic process automation (RPA) software. By combining the intelligence of AI with the operational efficiencies RPA offers, this software can be transformed into a value-generating component of business toolkits, applicable across multiple business functions. This increase in AI adoption will also lead to a rise in other newer technologies leveraging intelligent automation at their core: namely, chatbots will replace intranets, offering a much more intuitive and efficient way to access information within organizations,” Chris Mazzei, EY Global Chief Analytics Officer says.

When asked how employees felt about the potential impact of AI, 63% believed it would have a positive impact, with just 1% worried about the role AI will play in their work in future.

Gauging the mood

EY have continued to gauge the mood of leaders with a survey conducted at the recent EmTech Digital Conference.  Similarly to their previous survey, the majority felt it would have a positive impact, not only on their organizations but on job creation more generally, with fully 20% going as far as to say it will result in a surge of new jobs.

“Our employees don’t feel their jobs are jeopardized by AI. In fact, they demand intelligent automation that enables them to redirect their time towards more complex work that drives greater employee engagement and adds real value. We estimate that we will save approximately 2.1 million hours of people’s time on repetitive tasks in fiscal year 2018 due to automation. Those are hours that can be repurposed and reinvested into the business,” EY say.

What is a concern for executives however is the skills within their organizations to make effective use of AI.  Nearly all revealed that they’re struggling to find the talent required to drive AI adoption, which EY believe explains why many applications of AI to date are in purely functional capacities rather than anything more revolutionary.

What companies want AI to do

The vast majority of businesses are at a very early stage with AI at the moment.  Most are deploying it to improve business as usual by achieving cost efficiencies or accelerating decision making.  The nascent stage of things was underlined by the lack of any real KPIs within organizations to track the results achieved by AI.  Instead, it is very much at a test and learn stage.

That just 30% of organizations believe they have the capabilities to perform even this relatively minor foray into use of AI highlights the challenges many will face when attempting to roll it out on an enterprise-wide level.  The survey revealed that just 21% of organizations have board level support for such a roll out, with 28% saying they have no capabilities to do so.

“Enterprises are increasingly applying AI to their operational models. As a result, we are seeing leaders develop a more sophisticated view of how the technology could impact value creation and provide commercial differentiation. While AI is still in the early stage of maturity, businesses need to develop an AI strategy that is supported by the C-suite with the proper team to execute and measure its success,” EY conclude.