Some mornings, my wife, almost subconsciously, will prepare and hand me a cup of hot coffee before my brain or physical body is even capable of comprehending the task. Obviously, this isn’t AI. This is being human.
I’m going to make a case that we are only just starting to understand how to live and work alongside robots, both physical ones, like iRobot’s Roomba and the type of software robots (“bots”) that we build in enterprise RPA deployments.
And that the next 5-10 years will be critical for professional development and co-existence as robots become omnipresent in our personal and professional lives.
Work is About People
Dating back to a time where our parents and loved ones coerced the first words out of us as small children, we’ve pined for acceptance and socialization. We learned how to engage each other through words, body language and more subtle methods. Much of our socialization and humanization efforts are valuable in professional endeavors.
“Managers work with processes-leaders work with people,” said John C. Maxwell the American author and speaker who has written extensively on leadership. “A leader who produces other leaders multiplies their influences.”
Said, another way, we have spent thousands of hours learning how to work alongside each other to achieve the goals our managers and leaders set for us. These goals, and people’s happiness and workplace satisfaction are achieved through:
- Morning check-ins
- How’s your day?
- Did you have a good weekend?
- Annual Reviews
- Please get me those reports before I visit the client
- Great job (good managers always say good job)
And if work is about people, how do we begin to interact with our new robot co-workers.
An Age-Old Question
These questions have been asked constantly certainly since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution where labor was constantly evolving to operate the machines that would make it more efficient.
- How do we enable our labor force to work in concert with robots?
- How do we make sure our workers like it and increase value?
- How do we make sure our workers aren’t going to throw the monkey wrench at our brand new, beautiful machine?
The Spinning Jenny for example, allowed one person to spin many threads at once, by turning a single wheel. One person could now spin eight threads at once, a number that was later increased to 80 – 8x to 80x improvement from man to man + machine.
As we point out to our clients, software robots are actually quite a bit like physical robots. And whether you’re an experienced RPA enterprise or one just getting started, discovering and developing automations to augment your existing workforce is the first taste of RPA.
It helps us understands capabilities and limitations all at once.
The approach helps identify ideal processes for automation, re-design and/or abandonment altogether. “Why do we do that again?” is a common question our clients ask at various stages of a deployment.
And so, a measured, methodical approach to candidate process discovery and prioritization is a solid first step. But it’s just the beginning.
It’d be unnecessary for us to bring our robot a cup of coffee in the morning as it starts the process of recreating the report it used to take you, or one of your best people three days to compile.
It doesn’t need a “Good morning,” “Good job” or even “Good riddance.”
Why not follow the lessons learned from peaceful and profitable co-existence with other non-humans?
A 2017 Quartz article, by Leah Fessler, title makes its claim that “People who talk to pets, plants, and cars are actually totally normal, according to science.”
We’ve become so accustomed to attributing human like traits to our pets, plants and even cars with lines, “Ole, Woodstock (the house plant), it seems like you need to get a little more light.” I know we’ve all said, “Fill ‘er up” at least once.
It turns out that we as humans are hardwired to find faces, we attribute minds to things we like and we believe that something unpredictable is actually deep seated in our humanness.
So back to Digital Workforce Transformation…
Get rid of the robot imagery.
Our bots are an extension of our (human) work product. Let them be named as be represented as such. Some of my earliest data filtering algorithms originated from an LL Cool J song, “Lisa, Pamela, Angela, Renee, I love you, you’re from around the way.”
KPIs and Governance
- Who’s looking over what your digital workforce does on an hourly, daily, weekly basis?
- Are they producing a quantifiable amount of value to the business?
- Are you constantly evaluating KPIs and I/O (input/output)?
No, they don’t need oil changes or sick days. But they do need to be kept up with the latest permissions, applications and systems access.
Having a dedicated team who’s job it is to respond to expected breakpoints and anticipate potential areas things may break is also critical.
So how do we work alongside a workforce that doesn’t tire, feel, or frankly, give anything back to us other than what we ask it for.
The short answer is we’re learning.