Businesses fear that a failure to embrace automation will make them irrelevant

Automation The majority of UK businesses fear becoming ‘irrelevant’ within the next five years through failing to make a successful transition to an automated workplace. To avoid this risk, organisations need to collaborate with their workforces to embrace automation and artificial intelligence, a new report from Capita warns. The report Robot wars or automation alliances? People, technology and the future of work calls for an honest dialogue between business leaders and employees – and urgent, multi-stakeholder action to support employees in the transition to a more automated world.

It lays out a five-point framework of automation ‘guiding principles’ to encourage the responsible implementation of future workplace technologies. The pioneering report was drawn up in collaboration with Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School and is based upon research carried out by Hot Spots Movement and BritainThinks for Capita, the consulting, digital services and software business. It explores how the workplace is rapidly changing as automation accelerates – and makes clear the challenges businesses and employees now face in a world increasingly dominated by technology.

Research included workshops with people from both Capita and other organisations – from factory and call centre employees to logistics and public service administrators – whose jobs have already changed due to automation.

The report claims that the most effective way of ensuring workplace automation is successful is to build new processes in conjunction with those employees most affected by it and ensure their unique insights are part of the design process. This will help create a ‘hybrid’ workforce which combines the innovative thinking and ‘soft’ skills of humans with the accuracy and ultra-fast speed of emerging technologies.


The challenge of hybridisation

However, creating such a hybrid workforce represents the biggest challenge companies face over the next five years, according to seven out of 10 business leaders surveyed; two-thirds fear their organisation will become ‘irrelevant’ if it fails to make the transition. And, while the crucial soft skills required to build a ‘hybrid’ workforce – such as creativity and critical thinking – are unique to humans, the report finds they are in short supply and not easily taught.

There is also concern about ‘automation anxiety’ – and that some employees, who have traditionally not needed high levels of training, could find themselves left behind in this new automated, digital age.

To combat these concerns, the report establishes five automation ‘guiding principles’ to encourage government, policymakers and businesses to adopt a responsible approach. These are:

  • Leadership: Set out a clear vision for automation through proactive, transparent communication with employees.
  • Skills: Champion transferable skillsets and build a shared base level of digital understanding across the workforce.
  • Curiosity: Empower people to self-identify the ways that technology could improve their jobs.
  • Inclusion: Design automation strategies that cater to the varied needs across the whole workforce.
  • Collaboration: Tackle the scale and urgency of the challenge with multi-stakeholder action.

Capita itself aims to be a leading player in automation across the UK and has recently set up a new dedicated automation practice at Fort Dunlop in Birmingham to deliver technology solutions for its clients. With this focus on automation and the technology being introduced right across Capita’s services, the company claims it is actively engaging colleagues about what automation is, how it works, the types of business processes it can be applied to, and what it means for their job roles in the future.

Professor Lynda Gratton, of London Business School, said: “What is both significant and unique about this research and report is that the perspective is shifted from the leader to the people who are impacted by automation. To fail to listen to their voices and act upon their insights would be to significantly obstruct this automation agenda.”