How organizations should prepare for a future with intelligent technologies

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Forrester Research has released a new guide on "The Future of Work," which provides a pragmatic view of what it means to leaders, employees, customers and companies – and how firms can prepare for intelligent technologies and an automated workplace.

According to the guide, automation – including AI and robotics – will impact for areas related to the future of work: jobs, economic opportunity and disparity, global markets and how work is done. Information Management spoke with Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Craig Le Clair about what organizations can expect of humans and robot working side by side.

Information Management: Your recent study looks at the near (and farther) future of the workforce and how such technologies as artificial intelligence, robotics and automation will impact it. What are the key findings of your study with regard to these technologies?

Craig Le Clair: A few key trends.

First, automation will result in a 16 percent US job reduction by 2030: 29 percent will be: automation deficits (job losses) and 13 percent will be automation dividends (new jobs created).

Secondly, 800-plus current occupations (tracked by the NBL) can be categorized in 12 worker personae’s that will react differently to automation trends. Cubicle workers, coordinators, and function-specific knowledge workers will be hardest hit while human-touch, cross domain knowledge workers, and physical workers will be automated more slowly.

Third, the greatest impact of automation will come from software-based robotics (RPA, machine learning models, and virtual agents, as opposed to physical robotics whose progress has been over estimated. These software automation are the subject of Forrester’s new book to be launched soon: “Invisible Robots In The Quiet Of The Night.”

IM: What industries or types of organizations will most likely be the earliest to embrace these technologies in a significant way to change the way they do business?

Le Clair: Industries with large numbers of cubile workers (such as financial services and telecommunications), coordinators (such as from transportation and logistics), and function-specific knowledge workers (from all industries).

IM: How will advances with these technologies impact the jobs of the typical worker, and of data scientists and computer professionals?

Le Clair: Data science and computer professionals are in the persona called “digital elite” that today have 20 occupations and just over 4 million workers. These will, by percentage (51 percent), have the greatest number of automation dividends added over ten years.

IM: What will be the most in-demand skills of the future workforce as a result of these advancing technologies – technical skills? Business skills? Soft skills?

Le Clair: Our model views automation from a machine’s perspective and looks at the number and complexity of the information domains that a machine must master to do a human’s job. More domains mean that a more complex the data model that must be built. Humans will make connections across information domains better and cheaper than machines for some time. Legal or business strategy, emergency room physicians are examples of “cross-domain knowledge worker” and are the safest.

Human-touch workers are also a growth area and well protected. Robotics to emulate human agility will be a much slower ramp then forecasted.

IM: How should organizations best prepare for these new workforce demands in terms of training, skills development and cultural changes?

Le Clair: First, leave the “owned talent” culture behind – understand and develop systems for a remade “gig” economy that becomes a “talent economy.”

Secondly, take automation anxiety seriously and develop ways to monitor and treat.

Third, drive more certification and education from the workplace – depend even less on traditional education.

Finally, develop and manage your robotics quotient.

IM: What are your thoughts on how receptive workers will be to this pending workforce environment?

Le Clair: It will depend on the persona. Cubicle workers and coordinators alone account for 30.7 million jobs today and will see a 56 percent job reduction, further wage stagnation, and automation anxiety. Digital elites will rock.

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Robotics Automation Digital transformation