Robot servants. According to the media, we should already be dealing with human-like automatons cleaning our houses, babysitting our kids, and plotting the eventual overthrow of mankind. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been wondering when that sci-fi future we all were promised is going to finally arrive. Well, according to this week’s guests, it’s here. They are already using ‘digital labor’ at their firms. But, wait…isn’t that an oxymoron?
Along with changes in marketing, branding, and overall customer outreach, the arrival of the software equivalent of staffing will challenge your legacy technology and set you up for future success. We discussed this concept with Advocate Co-Founders and Co-Presidents Scott Fogle and Tim Wise.
For them, the revolution will not play out between people and programs. Instead of The Matrix, we’re headed for an era of unprecedented collaboration, where old school ideas meet up with the latest technological innovations to create a new, and more powerful, business presence.
Your Digital Strategy Needs to Include ‘Digital Employees’
If you’ve been paying attention to the headlines recently, you know that the standard brick and mortar retail outlet is on the ropes. Unless your brand is Walmart or Target, you’re seeing your market share shrivel while broad consumer services like Amazon are putting old names like Toys R Us and Sears out of business. It’s all part of the ongoing digital revolution, one that’s seeing old fashioned ways of running your company giving way to a whole new way of doing things.
“Everything now is about the mobile application,” Fogle points out, “we are becoming a do it all online, in your pocket, society.” Forbes agrees. In an article published on March 22, entitled Customers Are Increasingly Mobile First, Yet Mobile Websites Are Sending Visitors Away, author Brian Solis argues that, the better the tech, the better the customer experience. “Slow mobile sites not only frustrate consumers, they also hinder business,” he says. “In retail cases, Google learned that a one second delay in mobile load times can impact mobile conversions by up to 20%.”
So, it’s time to abandon that old “legacy technology” and build for the future. “You need to think ‘run, grow, and transform,” Wise says, “If you’ve been in business for 20, 30, or 40 years, your accounting, sales, or marketing will be affected, and making such a change can be very, very difficult.” One of the most complicated concepts out there is the “digital employee.” Put another way, various software applications and automations will take the place of some in your staff, and how to address that transition and disruption should be part of your ongoing tech strategy.
Automation Will Not Completely Replace People
This doesn’t mean your company will be “human free” in the near future. From adopting an entire cloud based strategy, to finding the right services and applications to use in conjunction with your staff, it’s clear that great change is on the horizon. But, people will still be part of the process. “We are constantly trying to adapt and reinvent; that’s the number one thing a CEO must do,” Wise offers. “You have to stay in the mindset of pushing yourself beyond the status quo.” This also means finding the right talent to aid in the transition and to play a part in the new, updated strategy.
Why? Well, as an article on the website Quartz argues, “A.I. is smart, but it really isn’t as smart as you think.” Author Dennis Mortensen goes on to say “AI isn’t very good at jobs that require creativity, empathy, critical thinking, leadership, artistic expression, and a whole host of other qualities we traditionally think of as ‘human.’ Which is why, according to Michael Chui of the McKinsey Global Institute, entire jobs or industries won’t often be automated away.” Instead, the plan is to free humans from the horrible repetitive busywork of the office so they can spend more time thinking outside the box.
But, A.I. is improving. “Last year, several very innovative companies have taken the software robot and given it a personality and called it a cognitive agent,” according to Fogle (Yes, a personality). In his opinion, there will be digital labor companies where you can go in and hire the personality of a man, or woman, and use them as your customer service agent. “Google and others are developing more machine learning capabilities,” he continues. “They monitor a human expert, take the human expert’s behavior and decision making and then put it in some kind of automated robotic form.”
Help Your Employees Evolve
People will be out, eventually, right? It depends. Many jobs or even industries will go away. However, for companies like Advocate, it’s about partnering, putting the right person in the position to work successfully with, not against, the machines. “It’s been incredibly satisfying,” Fogle says, “to see long term employees that have evolved over time. They are doing things they never thought they could do.” He also adds that they are constantly learning and developing skills, outcomes, and an understanding they never imagined they could.
That’s because automation gives them to the time to grow. “It gives us the ability to assimilate information and knowledge and present that back in a consumable way,” he says. It also gives staff the freedom to explore. What used to take months and multiple analysts to accomplish, now is in the hands (or memory) of a computer. “Think of it this way,” he continues, “anything you do with a keyboard today, you can do with a program.” By removing those repetitive tasks from your employees’ responsibility, you free them up to take on other challenges an A.I. agent is not savvy enough to tackle…yet.
Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau, writing for the Harvard Business Review, offer this insight: “The right question isn’t which jobs are going to be replaced, but rather, what work will be redefined, and how?” They point out that, currently, A.I. can support three types of automation: robotic process automation (RPA), cognitive automation, and social robotics. But, they aren’t 100% proficient in each. They will require human assistance to fully get up to speed, and then human monitoring to make sure they are following the business model and not going rogue (sorry – more sci-fi scenarios sneaking into the discussion).
Invest Now, or Pay in the Long Term
As with many issues revolving around business and corporate culture, it all comes down to money and investment. It’s much easier for a new start-up to enter this new realm. They don’t usually have all that old tech lying around. “The services you can get today are fundamentally different than they were 10 or 15 years ago,” Wise points out. “But, if you are a large company with a massive legacy platform, it’s going to be a lot harder.” Still, it has to be done. Just look at the recent situation with Toys R Us to understand the price to be paid.
“They were late to the game when it came to a digital strategy,” Fogle says. “They were relying on the old way of selling and the old way of buying.” As a result, they were totally out-positioned by Amazon, who constantly invests in its technology. “The challenge is dealing with the CFO,” Wise points out. “They want to save money on technology, applying it to the bottom line. They see IT as a black hole. Why does it cost so much?” Instead, the company should always view technology as a long-term investment. It supports all aspects of the business, from supporting your marketing platform and strategy to aiding your sales management, or ERP.
So, it looks like those days where Will Smith battles intelligent robots for control of a future Chicago are far off in the distance. Right now, we are watching the disruption of many industries, one automation program at a time. People are still part of the plan, and so will your business, if you embrace the changes. They may not always be easier or inexpensive, but in an increasingly mobile, in your pocket society, they are necessary. Welcome to the future.
Want more on A.I.? Read this post on how it’s literally changing the landscape!