Reimagining the future of work

SUITS THE C-SUITE By Maria Kathrina S. Macaisa

Business World (05/15/2017 – p.S1/2)

As megatrends continue to disrupt the way businesses generate value, enterprises are now seizing opportunities in automation and other advancements in technology to be more agile and competitive.

In last week’s article, we introduced robotics and discussed how it is transforming the workplace. In this article, we will now look at some of the opportunities for organizations that are looking to invest in robotics.

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is now being widely used across various sectors to address manual, rule-based and repetitive activities that free up human resources for high value-adding activities. With this in mind, organizations should consider how RPA and, significantly, cognitive automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, will change the future of work. These give rise to the concept of a combined work force — an organization empowered by traditional, contingent and robotics work force.

OPPORTUNITY TO REPURPOSE

In adopting RPA, certain roles in current typical organizations can be replaced by a robot and, thus, rendered obsolete. For example, in the Purchase-to-Pay (P2P) process, where you will traditionally find an accounts payable processor to process, verify and post invoices — in addition to posting journal entries to the general and subsidiary ledger — you can now design and employ a robot to conduct the matching and audit checks, post journal entries, document and archive all supporting documents electronically faster, more accurately and with more consistency compared to a traditional employee.

Organizations should see this as an opportunity to repurpose talent affected by automation. In a research conducted by the World Economic Forum, around 2/3 of the respondents report having intentions to invest in reskilling their current work force. This ranks as the first concern in terms of future work force strategy. However, the effectiveness of this strategy (which we will not tackle in this article) is still dependent on the ability of the organization to identify and predict future disruptions and is worth considering in reskilling plans and efforts.

Automation provides the human work force with opportunities to do more of the high value-adding work — freeing up the humans to focus on the why and not the what. Human employees can then concentrate on understanding the business. In our example, they can spend time on analysis empowered by analytics, rather than the transaction processing; identify process improvement ideas with the help of automation; and more importantly, focus on building the right relationships internally and externally to generate more value for the business.

OPPORTUNITY TO DESIGN NEW ROLES

Organizations need to assess their current work force and rethink the skill sets, capabilities and certifications needed to support the business of the future. Jobs, roles and career paths may have to be redesigned as more tasks are automated. Organizations that fail to recognize the need to reshape their talent agenda and strategy today may run the risk of not having the right talent at the right time to grow and sustain their business tomorrow. The jobs and careers at present might not be attractive to the talent of the future — challenging companies to also rethink their retention strategy.

Multi-skilled employees — those with a range of skills or abilities to bring to organizations — are becoming increasingly more attractive or preferable in the market. With the rise of RPA and with the future adoption of cognitive automation and artificial intelligence, an employee with a combined business and basic IT or programming knowledge will have a competitive advantage.

In our P2P example, a spend pool analyst with a combined knowledge of the business and data analytics software can provide relevant and real-time insights to the business to help drive savings and efficiencies in the procurement process. Furthermore, a “Robot Manager” or a similar role will be necessary to “manage” the robots — handling exceptions, updating business cases to allow dynamic case management, and activating/deactivating robots to manage the peaks and valleys in the sub-processes being automated.

A COMBINED, MORE POWERFUL WORK FORCE OF THE FUTURE

An integrated business process management and automation initiative can create a powerful competitive advantage for companies that choose to respond to the disruptive changes that megatrends, digital in particular, are causing. A company’s ability to leverage automation stands to gain greater efficiencies, savings and control over the business process, provided that not only the process and technology components are considered, but more importantly, the human component is also taken into account and incorporated into the overall business operations strategy.

Reskilling or repurposing the existing work force and redesigning the roles and talent strategy are only two of the many considerations in reimagining the future of work impacted by automation. Nonetheless, companies should also start thinking of how their employees can be engaged in the overall automation journey.

Companies are advised to start envisioning and preparing to build up the right mix of a human and robotics work force. Imagine the possibilities — robots processing transactions and activities at unimaginable speed and accuracy, while humans, empowered by advancements in technology, interpret data and information to provide insights and subjective assessments. It’s taking the robot out of the human so that humans can explore and develop new capabilities, new opportunities and realize the future of work, now.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EY or SGV & Co.

Maria Kathrina S. Macaisa is an Advisory Partner of SGV & Co.