Article: Automation augments human expertise over eliminating it: Dan Ternes of Blue Prism


Automation augments human expertise over eliminating it: Dan Ternes of Blue Prism

According to Dan Ternes, Chief Technology Officer, APAC, SS&C Blue Prism, Automation is wrongly tarnished with a reputation as a job destroyer. It is important to realise that automation augments human expertise rather than eliminates its need.
Automation augments human expertise over eliminating it: Dan Ternes of Blue Prism

Global businesses have realised the importance of automation as a key to success in the age of remote and hybrid work. However, there are debates whether automation will change the future work arrangements for good or bad as many fear elimination of human functions due to this. 

Commenting on automation, Blue Prism’s Dan Ternes noted that automation is here for human expertise automation and not elimination. Though many of the business processes will be highly impacted by it while creating new roles, it will certainly not eliminate many of the business processes. In the present and the future work arrangements, employees cite work-life balance as a key priority which may be supported by automation to a greater extent than employers can imagine. 

An article carried by Forbes states, “It’s been predicted that 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 don’t yet exist!” How do you look at this?

The statement is simply not plausible. Certainly, many jobs will become obsolete and new ones will be created in their stead, but it will not be a majority of jobs, let alone 85% of them.

On the other hand, it is plausible to say that while the job roles won’t disappear per se, they will nevertheless undergo wholesale changes – how we work, where we work, what our deliverables are, who our colleagues are, what our responsibilities are. All of these aspects are evolving and will continue to do so in the coming years.

In many respects, the future of work will bear little resemblance to that of the recent past so employers and employees should prepare accordingly.

Citing this, how according to you, should businesses invest in and plan the L&D and skilling programs for the current workforce?

Learning has become, and will continue to be, a lifelong pursuit for employees. Investing in upskilling programmes as a business-wide talent transformation strategy is essential for both the short- and long-term success of companies and their employees. Indeed, organisations with such programmes will better be able to attract and retain top talent. A report published by SkillsFuture Singapore revealed that there is an increased recognition of the importance of workplace learning, in fact the demand for workplace learning roles is twice as high in 2022 as compared to 2021.

We have also recognised this crucial need to invest in the current workforce who may be seeking to upskill themselves through academia. The Blue Prism Academia programme works closely with universities to provide industry-relevant training to students of undergraduate and graduate degree programmes, aiming to prepare the workforce (current and future) for in-demand jobs within the global workplace. 

It is easier said than done to prepare a workforce for the future of work. Efforts to foster a culture of learning and upskilling and invest in the current workforce are crucial in ensuring that organisations and their employees keep pace with the rapid rate of changes in the industry.

To what extent do you think process automation is going to affect the future workforce?

Automation will have an enormous – and largely positive – impact on the future workforce. 

We are familiar with automation’s core value proposition – error-free work, reduction in turn-around times, 24x7 operations, etc. We understand that automation enables organisations to deliver top-line growth without the corresponding increase in bottom-line expenses. We know that automation fosters agile, resilient enterprises that can easily scale-up resources to meet demand. We are also aware that automation enhances an organisation’s competitiveness and accelerates its digital transformation initiatives.

These factors indicate the enormous impact of automation at a corporate level, but the positive impacts are also felt at the individual level, by the employees themselves.

The pandemic has driven employees to re-examine the nature of their relationship with an employer and the Great Resignation is a reflection of that re-examination. We don’t want boring, unfulfilling jobs. We want purpose. We want to be challenged. We want to deliver value. We want to call upon our human skillsets – judgement, reasoning, imagination, empathy – rather than simply push paper. We want flexibility and a reasonable work/life balance. These have become the minimum expectations of the 21st century employee.

Automation is wrongly tarnished with a reputation as a job destroyer. It is widely cited that by 2025, automation may displace as many as 85 million jobs through changes in the division of labour between humans and automation. However, the same report also estimates that the uptake of automation will facilitate the creation of 97 million new roles, resulting in a net increase in job opportunities. The key is realising that automation augments human expertise rather than eliminates its need. 

The process of automation adoption may take years for most organisations to complete, but it will be a significant step in building a cohesive and productive workforce that positively impacts bottom lines.

A survey conducted by PWC states, “Being able to identify risks in replacing human work with technology was the biggest challenge cited by respondents”. How fast, according to you, should the leaders buckle up to identify the challenges to strike the right balance between tech and human resources, ten years down the line?

Ten years seems like an eternity so it’s tempting to think that leaders have the latitude to kick some of the challenges down the road. That would be a mistake.

First, the challenges we face are not simply the teething problems associated with installing a new technology platform and training its users. Those technical challenges are relatively minor. Instead, the challenges that will trip us up are cultural and organisational ones. Corporations will be redesigning structures and practices that have been standard fare for decades and upskilling employees to operate effectively within these new structures. That is a years-long programme and one that shouldn’t be started in the bottom-half of the decade.

Second, the benefits accruing to an organisation from a sophisticated, well-planned technology programme are transformational. They are competitive differentiators; they enhance customer experience; they represent new, improved products and services; they deliver top-line revenue growth. Your competitors are undertaking these programmes today. Consequently, the business leader who doesn’t buckle up— who delays adoption and gives their competitors a half decade’s head start—risks market share, risks obsolescence, risks continued relevance.

Future-proofing your organisation is an exercise that starts today, not in a few years’ time.

According to you, what is going to be the productivity assessment process of the future workforce that may work closely with AI?

Productivity assessment at its core measures the efficiency of a company’s business process. In the past, organisations’ productivity assessment processes may be limited to assessing the effort of human workers (the person-hours taken) to produce a certain output. With the future of workforce being one that is AI-empowered, a human-only assessment process would be too myopic. A more comprehensive measurement matrix would be required which accounts for the collective output generated by the collaboration between the human workers and IA, as well as the value added by the augmented workforce. 

The matrix also must take into account the changing role of the human worker. With much of the “raw output” being automated and humans fulfilling higher value activities, many of our deliverables will have qualitative rather than quantitative measures. Organisations will need to ensure that the value of the human output is properly acknowledged and reflected in the assessments.

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Topics: Technology, #FutureOfWork, #AutomationAndJobs

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