By Ravi Mehta, Sushant Kumaraswamy, Sudhi H and Prashant Kumar
In the last few years, as powerful AI technologies have become more mainstream, many apprehensions have been raised on the role AI will play in the evolution of work. While many opinions have been expressed on the predatory role of AI (for example, AI will ‘replace’ most of the work humans do), we offer an alternate view of the role AI can play in our lives and especially in our organizations. The famous poet, Robert Frost, once beautifully articulated that ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference’. It seems that, as business leaders, we are at a similar ‘two roads diverged in a wood’ moment, and the decisions we take on the role AI will play in our organisations will probably significantly change the evolutionary trajectory of our organisations. We believe that organisations can benefit much more from following an ‘augmentation’ strategy (as compared to ‘replacement’ strategy) as it relates to AI. Our experience has shown that, if augmented effectively with unique human capabilities, AI has the potential to significantly transform the three key pillars of organisations – work, worker and workplace – and enable creation of a hyper-productive ‘HumBot’ (Human + Robot) organisation.
Work is a fundamental and defining component of a human life. While technology advancements have impacted the way work is done, humans still spend a lot of time doing work that can be best done by a machine (‘Bot’). By freeing up humans to focus more on those tasks (for example, empathy and inspiration) that maximises their potential, we are likely to significantly increase organisational productivity. However, to achieve this, we will need to redesign work to optimally utilise and integrate the best of both ‘human’ and ‘bot’ capabilities. For example, we can leverage the bot’s ability to do high-volume, complex data collation task (for example, download bulk data from multiple systems at different times and do pattern and anomaly detection) and augment that with uniquely human skills (for example, deep enquiry, crisp articulation) to create a ‘proactive insights platform’ that can significantly enhance quality of decision making throughout the organisation.
As work gets redesigned through infusion of AI technologies, the role of the worker (doing the work) is also likely to change significantly. While some roles may get replaced by AI, we believe AI technologies can lead to two significant benefits for workers – (a) it can create new roles that do not exist today (b) it can transform existing roles to make them more impactful. For example, while AI may automate a transactional process like ‘invoice processing’ (and hence replace the work of people processing invoices), it can create new higher value-added roles for better managing the working capital of the organisation and to enhance the quality of relationship the organisation has with its ecosystem of vendors and partners. Additionally, AI has the potential to further increase the effectiveness of these new roles by acting as ‘personalised digital augmenters’ (for example, alert the ‘vendor relationship manager’ on a significant news about an important vendor and proactively perform quick customised correlation analysis to provide ‘next best moves’ for consideration). By embracing (rather than fearing and resisting) AI, we have the opportunity to enhance the quality of work and provide human workers more opportunities to find joy, meaning and fulfilment in their work.
As the work gets redesigned and the role of worker gets enhanced, the workplace is also expected to change significantly. COVID-19 has taught us that humans are resilient enough to change their behaviours and attitudes quickly and dramatically. As ‘work from anywhere’ becomes more common, the definition of ‘workplace’ may become more fluid. While this increased fluidity may lead to increased productivity and better worker morale, organisations will need to consider creating a more secure, responsive and collaborative hybrid (‘virtual’ and ‘physical’) workplace. AI technologies (for example, virtual whiteboards that convert speech to text and vice versa) can help create these hybrid workplaces to help human workers achieve better outcomes in a faster, smarter and more secure manner.
As business leaders navigate the proverbial ‘two-roads-diverged-in-a-wood’ moment as it relates to defining the right AI strategy for their organisations, we suggest also considering the ‘augmentation’ strategy (as compared to the ‘replacement’ strategy we hear most about). Defining and implementing the right AI strategy can help organisations to create a hyper-productive HumBot organisation in which a new type of work is performed by a new type of worker in a new type of (hybrid) workplace.
Ravi Mehta is Partner; Sushant Kumaraswamy, Director; Sudhi. H, Associate Director; and Prashant Kumar, Senior Consultant at Deloitte India