Opportunities and challenges of workplace automation

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We're at the dawn of a workplace revolution as automation and artificial intelligence are increasingly adapted into everyday work settings. What recently sounded like a far-distant science fiction future is actually a reality and knocking at our doors. McKinsey Quarterly talks about these advances and offers a A CEO action plan for workplace automation in its July edition.

We’re at the dawn of a workplace revolution as automation and artificial intelligence are increasingly adapted into everyday work settings. What recently sounded like a far-distant science fiction future is actually a reality and knocking at our doors. McKinsey Quarterly talks about these advances and offers a A CEO action plan for workplace automation in its July edition.

Authors Michael Chui, Katy George, and Mehdi Miremadi offer numerous examples of how artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are encroaching on activities previously assumed to require human judgment and experience.They describe advantages that extend beyond current assumptions:

“Senior executives have two critical priorities in this world. First is to gain an appreciation for what automation can do in the workplace. While cost reduction, mainly through the elimination of labor, attracts most of the headlines and generates considerable angst, our research shows that automation can deliver significant value that is unassociated with labor substitution. In this article, we describe a wide range of business opportunities that automation is creating: for example, helping companies get closer to customers, improve their industrial operations, optimize knowledge work, better understand Mother Nature, and increase the scale and speed of discovery in areas such as R&D.”

They cite specific examples of organizations that are demonstrating progress in these areas: financial institutions that deploy automation to collect and process data and AI programs that analyze emotional responses to advertisements and suggest the best language to trigger response. The authors estimate that a process like mortgage origination could be reduced from the current average of 37 days to less than 1.

The authors offer advice to senior executives on what they need to be doing to develop an automation action plan. Here’s a summary, but the full article is worth a read:

As leaders seek to plan and prioritize what they might achieve with automation, they must grapple with two imperatives.
First is to examine their current business systems to identify which components will benefit not just from labor savings but from improvements in speed, quality, flexibility, and service.
… The second imperative is for leaders to look beyond their current business processes and start imagining how automation will enable them, and others, to make bolder moves.

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