Don’t fear the future
12 February 2018
This article was featured in the March 2018 issue of the magazine.
Parit Patel, head of solution architecture UK at IPsoft, urges employees and employers to embrace AI by managing employee expectations
In 2017, we saw popularity of virtual personal assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Home explode, with some even cementing their place as commonplace in consumers’ lives. The year also saw an uptick in the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) among corporations with several tech giants making substantial investments in this disruptive technology.
While the effect of AI has yet to be fully realised in the corporate world, cognitive technology has already entered the workplace for customer service, knowledge sharing, process improvement and IT service desk automation. Early adopters are already reaping the benefits of these solutions as they gain improved customer experience and higher productivity. As AI continues to grow in prevalence in the workplace, the debate around whether digital employees will ultimately replace humans in the workplace is only getting more heated.
Employees are increasingly concerned that robots may steal their jobs. However, the real opportunity here is not a direct replacement but an enhancement to their human potential. To appease anxiety and restore confidence, businesses must do whatever they can to prioritise employee engagement and ensure that staff remain driven and productive, with a greater degree to operate autonomously.
When implementing new AI solutions and systems, businesses must make it a priority to minimise employee disruption. They can prepare their employees to adapt and work alongside the new technology so as to reap the full benefits of AI. Clear communication and a structured approach to implementing changes will be key to ensuring employee expectations are in line with business directions.
Augment existing processes for a more engaging workplace
AI solutions will help employees move up to more interesting roles. Businesses should start by helping their staff understand how they will benefit from the reduction of repetitive and unrewarding tasks with the introduction of cognitive and AI technology. Employees will be more motivated if they realise their importance and spend more time handling complex queries that require dealing with new exceptions and drawing deeply on emotional connections.
AI can empower them by speeding up knowledge search, linking applications, automating processes, finding pertinent data from daily or weekly reporting, or providing insights into issues and predicting challenges before they occur. More time can be spent on managing staff, strategy, leadership and building connections with customers and peers.
...not a direct replacement but an enhancement to their human potential
Use AI to add value where skills or time are limited
AI can add value in several areas, starting with providing scalable 24/7 availability for customer service and support. Intelligent virtual agents can be used to provide customer support during periods of high call or inquiry volumes, or during off hours on weekends or late nights. These AI-enabled agents can also step in during disaster recovery scenarios when staff cannot make it to offices or systems are down. Simply put, AI can provide critical customer service and support when humans aren’t available to do so.
In healthcare, primary care workforce shortages are a growing issue for many providers and they need to find new, innovative and scalable ways to service customers and reduce employee burnout. AI-enabled virtual agents are a useful way of supplementing and reducing pressure on healthcare staff. For example, virtual primary care agents can be designed to handle frequent, routine interactions such as requests for appointments or information queries about test results or immunisations.
Another potential AI use case is fraud detection. A large gaming company that implemented IPsoft’s cognitive agent Amelia for customer service found that Amelia was much better at detecting scams when impostors attempt to access the accounts of genuine players. This has significantly reduced the burden on employees to troll manually through complex data sets looking for fraudsters. Instead, they can spend more time handling enquiries and servicing customers.
Gradually introduce new tools and technologies
Businesses should build their internal expertise to become more familiar with AI technologies and how to maximise their value. Getting early hands-on experience will be key in setting realistic expectations and understanding the true strengths of a family of technologies which is evolving quickly. Introducing any new technology into the workplace will require a learning cycle; with machine learning that process is more important than ever and requires extensive involvement of the employees who are subject-matter experts in order drive true transformation.
Extensive communication needs to a core part of an AI programme. Make internal changes visible to staff, address concerns quickly, and be willing to switch direction when necessary. The integration of digital employees alongside human employees is a change in corporate culture as much as it is a change in process.
...implementation of cognitive technologies will require a range of different skills...
Address the skills gap early with training
Automation of tasks is inevitable, with or without AI, and it will continue as long as technology improves and we have the resources for further development. In turn, this will trigger re-definition of roles and, in some cases, will mean that jobs which exist today will disappear. Just as quickly, new roles for people will emerge needing, for example, business analysts, cognitive engineers, user experience designers and linguists to support, train and continually improve AI systems. Businesses should not only be planning for AI investments but also looking to develop individuals for those new jobs. Successful implementation of cognitive technologies will require a range of different skills – many of which may be in short supply.
When it comes to AI, neither businesses nor employees should fear the future. Businesses will benefit from early staff education and retraining as the digital workforce expands. From productivity gains to improved customer experiences, the benefits of embarking on an AI journey far outweigh the potential bumps in the road. However, the responsibility lies with business leaders to engage and motivate employees, preparing them early for AI’s potential impact as we move into an AI-enabled world.