Bill Fowler
Bill Fowler

Automation introduces major changes to the workplace. There will be questions about how it will affect productivity, the workforce, and the way organizations are run. In order to prepare for the future of automation and autonomics, it is critical that organizations examine how this rapidly changing technology will affect their business model, profitability, and employees.

How will A/A affect the workforce?

Perhaps the single greatest concern about automation is its effect on the workforce. This fear has slowed the adoption of automation, as there is often great pushback from employees. Historically, automation has actually had little to no correlation with unemployment. Although German industries installed a far higher proportion of robotic equipment between 1997 and 2007 than industries in America, they actually saw less job loss in the manufacturing sector. Other data show that there is an essentially flat correlation between the percent change in use of automated systems and percent change in unemployment across countries all over the world1.

How will it impact employees?

Although automation may not lead to job loss on the whole, it can still have a significant effect on employment and work activity. Its effects can be thought of as similar to those of outsourcing. In the short term, it can lead to job losses and shifting opportunities. Those doing manual or repetitive tasks are often the first to be impacted; however the effects of automation can quickly spread to other areas. This can become especially problematic when those who are installing or maintaining systems become affected. Bringing in tools that would displace systems engineers can be challenging, as they may have a vested interested in seeing that the implementation is not successful. That’s why it’s critical that organizations understand how to properly make use of their workforce in a new, highly automated work environment.

Restructuring the workforce

Although automation can bring short-term job loss and dramatic shifts, it can also free resources to create higher level, more-rewarding jobs in other areas. As software and robotic systems displace their human counterparts, resources can be shifted to other departments. At the core of an effective automation implementation is an expert who knows how to minimize problems and ensure that human and autonomic resources are being used to their fullest extent. A robust management team also is needed to oversee external and internal services.

It is necessary, at least initially, to have staff who work alongside the automated workforce, stepping in to occasionally fix errors or address problems that are too complicated for the virtual engineers. This will, however shift as the system evolves. Autonomics allow the systems to improve their quality of service over time. Each time the systems deal with simple tasks, they amass more data in their knowledge repository, which they can later use to handle more complex problems. As virtual engineers become more sophisticated, the human workforce becomes less necessary.

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Bill Fowler
Managing Principal

Bill Fowler has designed and led large complex consulting engagements for Fortune 500 clients and has worked on some of the world’s largest outsourcing agreements. He is committed to helping clients develop effective, sustainable sourcing solutions that align with their strategic and operational objectives.

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