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January 30, 2018

Why AI Shouldn’t Be Deemed the ‘Workplace Enemy’

Christian Pedersen

Organizations are finally reaching a new level of maturity when it comes to integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into everyday business operations. Despite this success to-date, the fear of worker replacement is still a prevalent concern across industries.

According to a recent poll from Pew Research, 73 percent of Americans are worried about a future where robots replace human jobs. Many employees are left wondering: How can I effectively compete against an automated, informed algorithm?

The good news is, AI is meant to enrich, not replace, employees. In fact, Gartner predicts that AI augmentation will recover 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity by 2021. With the help of AI, employees can shift their job functions from repetitive, administrative tasks, to spending more time on value-add projects that require critical thinking skills.

Businesses are already reaping the benefits of AI in the workplace as it’s facilitating a productive and efficient environment for employees, and helping workers get a better hold on work-life balance. Although, it’s important for organizations to assess how AI can best play a role in daily operations, and what data is needed to support such an undertaking.

Once that’s in place, companies can focus on encouraging and educating employees on how to leverage AI for their own advantage in the workplace.

Understanding the True ROI of AI

Return on investment (ROI) should be core to any AI strategy (kenary820/Shutterstock)

While employees might be nervous about working alongside AI, it’s hard to overlook the benefits it can play in the workplace. As mentioned, AI can automate day-to-day administrative tasks, freeing up time for employees to hone in on assignments that require human reasoning and intervention.

Artificial intelligence removes and automates the mundane, repetitive tasks that are inherent to running a business. Furthermore, it’s adaptable to various environments and can be applied within a number of departments in a company, and across industries.

For instance, AI has had a powerful impact on talent recruitment as it streamlines routine tasks in the hiring process. It helps answer basic questions and review qualifications, allowing HR teams more time to focus on the important human interactions like getting to know candidates on a personal level. Not only does AI increase productivity through automation, but it can remove some of the risk that comes naturally from human error and allows workers to identify and rectify issues quickly.

This all sounds great in theory, but companies also need to understand that the biggest obstacle to AI productivity is the lack of data access and availability. AI engines only operate as good as the data and data sources they’re exposed to – if you can streamline your data and ensure accessibility, then line of business managers can take that information to make actionable decisions and recommendations.

The labor involved with invoice matching is ripe for AI automation

This allows almost every employee the ability to make sound judgments based on the compilation of millions of data points, more than the human brain can even comprehend. This is another reason employees should find relief in the fact that AI will not replace their job, rather it enhances their decision-making ability.

So, how can companies measure AI productivity? There are several ways including a decrease in budget spent on administrative processes or increase in the number of hours’ employees are allocated to work on critical projects.

For example, I recently spoke with the CEO of a company that deals with payments and was burdened with heavy manual work whenever his team had to process invoices. They realized this was becoming a bottleneck, and started to leverage machine learning to look for, collect and correlate information from multiple structured and unstructured sources of data, including e-mail, to identify payments and how they relate. As a result, the company increased payment efficiencies from 30 to 90 percent in just eight weeks with the help of AI.

This is a great use case, but companies need to individually define their KPIs relative to what problem they’re trying to solve.

Working Smarter, Not Harder

It’s clear that artificial intelligence technologies can make life easier in the workplace, but it can also help employees achieve better work-life balance. Not only because you’re increasing efficiencies in your day-to-day job, but AI-powered digital assistants in the business environment are taking on a completely new role to support the next generation workforce.

AI is about working smarter not harder (ktsdesign/Shutterstock)

For example, a digital assistant that is integrated with your work calendar can inform you that after your last in-person meeting of the day at 3:00 p.m., you can make it home based on current traffic conditions to take your last call of the day from your house. As a result of this information, you’ve avoided rush hour traffic and are home to finish out any remaining tasks for the day.

The beauty of AI is that it’s all about working smarter, not harder. This ultimately benefits businesses because if they can keep their employees happy – especially millennials who are increasingly demanding flexible work schedules –  they’ll have higher retention rates. In fact, a Bentley University study found that 77 percent of millennials believe that a flexible work schedule would make them more productive and improve work-life balance.

Putting AI into Action

Most companies realize the benefits that AI can bring to the workforce, like increased productivity and flexibility, but recent findings from IDG Research found that only 28 percent of organizations have an active digital-first approach. As AI technologies continue to advance and expand, businesses need to start taking steps to adopt an AI-focused strategy.

As companies transform to keep pace in the digital economy, artificial intelligence will be a critical asset to organizations looking to gain an advantage in today’s highly competitive marketplace. There isn’t a one-size-fits all strategy for implementing AI in a B2B setting, so companies need to look at the proven reasons for why and how they are using this technology. Companies will fare better if they ease their way into implementing AI applications rather than attempting to blanket all processes at once. As a best practice, focus on a single scenario to start with and then focus on the outcomes that AI can help you deliver.

It’s important for companies to have the foundational building blocks in place, such as cloud capabilities and streamlined data, to be able to implement AI successfully. Once that’s in place, companies can start communicating their AI strategy with employees, and before you know it, their fear of job replacement will fall to the wayside and they too will realize the benefits AI delivers to them personally.

About the author: Christian Pedersen is Chief Product Officer for SAP S/4 HANA Cloud. As a technology and business executive, Christian has amassed a solid track record in setting vision and driving development. A multiple award winner in executive briefings and internal presentations, Christian has a proven ability to stimulate technology enabled business innovation, via clear and simple communication. 

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