Opinion is divided on the extent of impact Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation will have on the future of jobs. According to the World Economic Forum[i], by 2022, 75 million jobs may be displaced by automation, while 133 million additional new roles may emerge concurrently.
Opinion is divided on the extent of impact Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation will have on the future of jobs. According to the World Economic Forum[i], by 2022, 75 million jobs may be displaced by automation, while 133 million additional new roles may emerge concurrently. Jobs that are repetitive in nature will gradually become redundant and back office resources will be prime candidates for replacement. The reality is in our very own backyard. A restaurant in Bengaluru has reimagined how business operations can be run and deployed programmed bots to do repetitive tasks such as serve food. This is a perfect example of how automation will alter the future of work.
Now to explain an autonomous back office given the above scenario. I strongly feel that if processes in back office business operations like finance, procurement, HR etc. are properly reimagined and run by “intelligent and autonomous” machines (with a heavy infusion of artificial intelligence), a dramatically different way of working will emerge over the next few years which would require reskilling large workforces for completely new kinds of jobs, that may not exist today but will do so in the coming years.
Imagine this! If you were to hover on top of any back-office processing company today, what would you see? Surely, you will notice an assembly of people and processing machines. The new autonomous back office will shift this basic working model with fewer people working - perhaps 10% of what exists in a regular non-autonomous company. The few people that will be working would be either monitoring, configuring or correcting “intelligent” machines.
Essentially, artificial intelligence now being a reality, 80% of the HR value stream, if closely looked at, has the potential to be automated. Finance and procurement are no different. Some of the benefits that companies will gain from automation are as follows:
Currently FP&A (Finance) teams spend maximum of their time in gathering and consolidating data. In the new scenario, FP&A teams will have more time to focus on high value activities such as strategic planning.
FP&A teams have limited knowledge about analysis being done outside of their function. AI captures the learning from real history and multiple dimensions which will then help them during prediction
Data-based business execution does better than human prediction because AI does not have any bias, if the data is clean and there is substantial long-term data.
AI can enhance auditor experience.
AI enables improved risk management. Organizations looking to create early warning systems should use AI to avoid mishaps.
So, is the impact of an autonomous back office all gloom and doom? Definitely not! My view is that reskilling will be necessary and must be deployed faster than ever before.
Concerns about new technologies resulting in loss of jobs is not new and there have been similar concerns at the crux of every major technological advancement. Economists and historians in the 1950s and 60s have had a pessimistic view of ‘machines taking over employment from humans.’ However, contrary to what they thought, technology has enabled the creation new jobs in the US. One third of new jobs created in the United States in the past 25 years were types that did not exist earlier in areas including IT development, hardware manufacturing, app creation, and IT systems management[ii].
Technology, itself, has historically been a net job creator e.g. personal computers not only created jobs for semiconductor makers but also gave birth to new kinds of jobs like software and app developers, customer-service representatives and information analysts.
With the advancement of technology and the high quantum of data available, there are a lot of opportunities being created around data – data labelling, data analysis, data enrichment and feature engineering etc. All these opportunities will require people at work – but the skills required will be very different.
There is a need to change our education system to cater to the requirements of today and the future. Though it will be a while before real change takes place, we will need the talent graduating from institutions to be ready to take up these new opportunities, when the change happens.
Offices run by machines or the autonomous back office, as I would call it, is not a far-fetched idea. That’s how offices will work, in the not-too-distant future.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house