How AI Is Reinventing Professional Jobs For The First Time

robotic process automation ai

For over a decade, we have been talking about professional job automation and artificial intelligence. Many manufacturing jobs were automated in the 80s and 90s, and it is the white color jobs that were going to be transformed…in the future. Except that future is now, and COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation by instantly creating a digital life in most organizations. Leaders now have an opportunity to respond to the evolving needs of their organizations, customers, and employees. Leaders also have an opportunity to contain costs, improve performance, and reduce risk. All of this can be done by reinventing jobs and rearranging work to have employees take on different responsibilities. Fortunately, there is a tool that can help to manage the process and reconfigure jobs to achieve the optimal combination of human talent and automation.

In 2018, work and human capital experts, Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau published a book, Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work, in which they provided a structured approach to deconstructing work and creating more optimal human-machine jobs. In order to determine which tasks could be automated, outsourced, or given to an alternative talent, they classified each task in the categories: (1) repetitive vs. variable work, (2) independent vs. interactive work, and (3) physical vs. mental work.

Generally, the authors found that repetitive work was more automation-compatible with solutions, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA could perform repetitive tasks much faster than humans with almost no errors. Independent work required little or no human collaboration with others. A combination of RPA and artificial intelligence could produce results faster and cheaper. Physical work lent itself to social or collaborative robotics that could use AI, sensors, or mobile equipment. For certain types of work, automation was becoming an inescapable necessity to deal with a crisis and a challenging economic environment.

(Source: WillisTowers Watson WorkVue. The above screenshot shows how much money and time can be saved by recalibrating a business model and deploying people most effectively.)

Today, organizations have additional options for reinventing jobs that address the consequences of COVID-19. Many companies have excess labor due to the slowdown of the business, while other companies are experiencing an escalation in customer demand and not enough people to meet the rising demand. Similarly, one organization could be experiencing dramatic changes in workload throughout its various departments. The answer to these challenges is an internal marketplace that breaks down work into tasks that could be matched with people in different parts of the organization or outside the organization. For example, Kroger borrowed employees from Sysco Corporation when the restaurant industry was hit hard by COVID-19.

The internal marketplaces can be used even after COVID-19 is behind us to backfill a sick employee or address a labor shortage in one department if a company has a hiring freeze. Both employees and employers benefit from these marketplaces. The most significant benefit for the employer is cost control while meeting business goals. At the same time, the employees get an opportunity to learn and grow professionally.

We are experiencing a paradigm shift where we are moving away from matching a person to a position. Instead, we are starting to match skills to work. Reinventing jobs around today’s challenges may accelerate the future of work and create new and innovative ways in how, where, and by whom work gets done. This can lead to greater resilience, efficiency, and productivity in organizations and empower employees to focus on what matters most. Ultimately, by reinventing jobs, we are allowing employees to focus on more meaningful work.

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