Automation is not about task replacement but job reinvention | by Jean-marc Buchert | Jan, 2022


What makes some tasks more easily automatable than others? It depends on their strategic value.

Studying the impact of automation in companies, consultants Ravin Jesuthasan and John Bourdeau assessed the benefit of improving some work processes compared to others. Doing so, they realized that not all kinds of tasks scale the same way.

For example, filling out a tax form fast or with as few mistakes as possible only brings a negative benefit. Ensuring so make your company avoid financial penalties. Similarly, employees taking customers’ orders don’t add any additional value, except avoiding customers’ frustration.

Conversely, if some tax preparers find ways to reduce their organization’s overhead, they provide added value. Similarly, a customer relations agent who focuses on the customer’s needs will likely succeed in expanding the order. Those tasks enable endless business opportunities.

Wondering about these differences, Jesuthasan and Bourdeau invented a metric they called the Return of Improved Performance (ROIP). The ROIP defines the strategic benefit an organization gains from improving the task.

When using it, it’s easy to realize that tasks with negative returns (or zero ROIP) are a good match for automated systems. Algorithms and software are very good at following structured protocols with little variation. RPAs, for example, can easily repeat these business processes while minimizing negative loss (error or miscommunication).

On the other hand, human agents have a natural grasp on ROIP-positive tasks thanks to value-generating skills. Through smart problem-solving, creative thinking, or deep communication skills, they always find ways to add value to existing processes.

Thanks to this framework, business leaders can differentiate processes that would benefit from being automatable and those that would not. And they tend accordingly to put more automation on ROIP-negative tasks and reallocate more human roles in ROIP-positive ones.

Paradoxically, this means automation doesn’t exhaust the amount of work available for workers. By retraining workers on positive ROIPs process, leaders can generate infinite business opportunities. So it’s not in their best interest to automate all of them.

The real stake is rather to invent new value-generating roles.

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