The actual impact of automation on business

There’s been a lot of discussion about Artificial Intelligence (AI). From sci-fi movies of robots that are too smart for their own (or humankind’s) good, the reality of advancements in AI technology has had some clear impacts on our lives and is expected to continue to change the way we live and work.

Many worry and argue that AI is taking jobs away from people. This is certainly true. But it is far from a new phenomenon. Advancements in technology and automation have long affected humans. Whenever a new solution is introduced, it causes a certain amount of displacement on workers who previously filled the role.

This is known as the displacement effect, and has been happening since well before the invention of computers and AI. One can argue that machine automation that appeared during the Industrial Revolution displaced workers, as well as the invention of horse-drawn plows well before that - the point is that worker displacement is a situation we have been dealing with for centuries.

Is modern automation different?

There is an argument that things are different this time around with the involvement of AI. However, while there is evidence that automation does cause loss of jobs, we also now know that it plays a significant role in creating opportunities for new jobs.

But there’s a catch.

The new jobs are generally centered around the new technology, which means that employees will need to understand how to work with it to benefit from the growth potential. And this all comes down to education accessibility, which is an entirely different topic we won’t get into here.

The rise of AI has been evident even within the rapidly growing field of programming. With the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, companies were forced to accelerate their digital transformation and quickly adopt new technology to allow them just to continue with business-as-usual.

Automation played a big part in that, as the need for services typically done in person suddenly needed to be handled digitally. This paved the way for new solutions to make improvements to workflows - making things more automated, streamlined, and efficient.

One could say that the threat of automation is different this time. As it likely was in each of the last precipices of technological development. But this time, it’s impacting not just one sector, but how we interact with one another and with businesses.

It’s changing how we value human labor, and where and when it’s best utilized. It’s also changing how companies manage their bottom line and create more efficient operations. The right solutions can make a big difference for a business.

There’s a famous quote by Bill Gates addressing the proper implementation of automation in business:

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

This illuminates the need for understanding how a company operates - where automation can be added to help improve performance instead of hindering it - and then choosing the right solution for the business.

Why human labor still matters

Automation can mean jobs are cut but it can bring welcome changes to how teams work. Especially with advanced technology, it’s crucial that teams learn how to best communicate and how their work can be better served by the solution.

But automation is not only useful to tech teams, it can be implemented across departments to optimize how teams work with solutions. We’ve seen it with our own customers; delighted by the changes to their productivity levels after implementing digital workflows and verified electronic signatures.

We should also take a moment to appreciate how increased automation has affected how we view tasks actually performed by humans, or products crafted by human hands. There’s a reignited interest in things that take time to produce, that don’t involve any kinds of machinery or automation technology.

Everything from jewelry to coffee, furniture to beer, there’s a strong market for handmade goods. So while automation certainly has its place and its downsides, the resulting impact has caused an interesting backlash in the form of the amount of value placed on human labor.

Offices have not escaped this backlash - many people are pleasantly surprised now to get customer support from a real human instead of a chatbot or automated phone system. Teams are also putting more emphasis on their own internal communication with an awareness that there needs to be a balance between the technology and real human interaction not only to build a positive working environment but even to build good products.

So while there is proof that automation is taking away our jobs, it’s also adding jobs and changing the way we look at work, our purchases, education, and how we interact as humans.