In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry discusses how ChatGPT is changing the workforce and uses RPA as a referential starting point.
Eighteen percent of work – amounting to 300 million jobs – could be automated by artificial intelligence, predicts a recent Goldman Sachs report.
That sounds dire, until you consider what else the report says: Most companies will use AI such as ChatGPT to complement rather than replace jobs. Implemented thoughtfully, advancing technology can improve employees’ experience, unshackling them from draining menial work and freeing them up for more meaningful, satisfying tasks.
The widespread adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) — the use of bots to automate repetitious tasks and processes — provides a good window into what may happen with continuing AI progress and how leaders can implement new technology in a way that minimizes employee anxieties and maximizes improvement to their daily life.
Use Tech to Repurpose, Not Eliminate, Jobs
My company, Centric Consulting, has helped many clients implement RPA initiatives. A few years ago, there was a lot of nervousness around the technology and the implications around job loss — exactly how people are looking at ChatGPT now.
Leaders typically want to explore RPA to become more efficient. That doesn’t have to mean cutting jobs, however. Instead, leaders need to think about how to help their people grow without adding headcount – and how to scale by adding technology resources.
Say you have 10 employees performing lower-level tasks that you’re automating. Instead of letting go of half of them, can you repurpose their roles so they’re engaged with more strategic, collaborative and creative work and thinking about meatier issues? Effective companies use automation as a growth catalyst instead of cost removal.
Companies often struggle to fill openings for menial work such as data entry, and turnover is high. The employees they do retain become overworked. When companies implement tech such as bots to take care of a portion of their work, two things happen: Employees feel immediate relief and the company doesn’t need to constantly try to hire new people — saving funds without the need to cut headcount.
A study conducted by UiPath and Forrester backs up this idea. Among leaders surveyed, 66 percent said RPA restructured existing work, leading to more human interaction for employees. Sixty percent said the tech freed up employees to focus on more strategic, meaningful work. More than half said RPA improved employee engagement. “Instead of being a predictor of mass unemployment, automation is increasingly being identified as a mechanism for mass empowerment and job creation,” the report concludes.
A practical example is World Wide Technology (WWT), a technology services provider that leveraged RPA to automate manual data gathering and entry processes previously handled by its procurement operations. By implementing RPA effectively, the company eliminated the need for procurement teams to search for information on vendor websites and manually transfer data received via email into the procurement system. RPA has enabled the team to onboard multiple vendors monthly without additional IT development, resulting in improved supply visibility and customer service, reduced delivery time, and increased productivity.
The benefits of RPA go well beyond automating tasks. “RPA is particularly valuable for connecting disparate systems, providing plumbing between applications and networks without requiring special firewall rules, exposure of APIs, or navigating complex inter-organizational politics,” said Dave O’Toole, a Senior Director at WWT. “Moreover, RPA solutions can be developed and implemented faster than traditional projects, making them efficient and effective for organizations looking to streamline their processes and increase productivity. With UiPath’s cutting-edge RPA technology, WWT is well on its way to achieving its goals of greater vendor integration and improved supply chain efficiency.”
Consider the Psychological Impact of New Tech
Proactive, strategic change management is essential for getting employees on board with a new tech implementation, especially one with the potential to eliminate jobs.
Leaders need to craft and share their vision for how the new tool will be used and how it will affect employees, their jobs and the entire organization. For example, when my company helped an auditing firm with RPA implementation, leadership kept the message simple and clear: Instead of doing menial audit tasks all day, employees would be identifying risk at a higher level and thinking about accomplishing audits in more creative ways. The auditors embraced the idea of doing away with the parts of the job they didn’t like and getting to engage in more meaningful work. Overall costs were also lowered as departing employees (retirees, voluntary turnover) weren’t replaced.
“By embracing the possibilities of automation, leaders can empower their teams to work more effectively, improve customer satisfaction, and ultimately achieve greater business success,” O’Toole said. “As leaders, we must recognize and appreciate employees’ value and strive to help them unlock even more potential by adopting innovative technologies.”
Culture plays an important role in how well employees take to new tech, as well. Companies with a culture rooted in trust between management and staff, with a strong “we” environment, often see a smoother transition with minimal employee anxiety. On the other hand, companies with a more distrustful environment where employees feel leadership prioritizes cutting costs and headcount, are going to see significant resistance.
“Taking time to understand employees’ perspectives on their tasks and concerns about automation is crucial,” O’Toole shared. “Employees take tremendous pride in the value of their daily activities. As change leaders, it is essential to appreciate their point of view and help them understand that eliminating manual processes doesn’t equate to eliminating the value they bring to the organization.”
Tools Will Never Beat Humans
At the end of the day, technology like RPA and ChatGPT are just tools. Companies will always need to customize these tools — there are listings for ChatGPT prompt engineer jobs paying more than $300,000, for example. Customization can’t happen without real experience of a company’s unique situation.
Take RPA bots. They’re only as good as you can program them. As soon as real thinking comes in, you need a human. People have an edge when it comes to creativity, empathy, intuition and all the related soft skills. So far, that appears to be the case with ChatGPT, as well, which has been criticized for producing inaccurate and biased content. Companies that use ChatGPT for marketing material are going to end up with bland content that is only as good as what’s already out there. Something rooted in real experience can’t be replicated.
It’s all about how companies harness new technology. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said recently, “This next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth: powerful copilots designed to remove the drudgery from our daily tasks and jobs, freeing us to rediscover the joy of creation.”
After all, the world continues to move forward, and companies that don’t figure out how to live and thrive with new tech will be left behind.