Job automation is coming. In fact, it’s already here.
I was therefore interested to read an article recently, based on a 2-year old online post made on a workforce Q&A internet site that asked people to answer the question:
“Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I’ve automated my job?”
The post suggested that the individual had devised a way to transform his spreadsheet data entry role into something that was automated to the point where what he was paid to do for 40 hours per week was now being completed by the computer in 10 minutes. Effectively, this meant that the employee could go and do whatever he wanted without his employer knowing (he was a remote worker) and continue to be paid as he was still delivering the results that they paid him to do.
I am not going to try and answer the question or wade into the debate – please do go and read the article and the responses if you wish to come to your own conclusions. What I have been thinking more about is the practical impact in the workplace as job automation and Industry 4.0 begins to take shape.
This approach to automating your own job role without the support of the business and hiding it could well lead to short term gains for the individual but it will almost certainly lead to time consuming problems for your colleagues and the business when it starts to go wrong – errors may creep in, the reporting requirements may change and there will be times when you are not there to cover your tracks such as holidays.
With no one checking the data or the systems designed to do the automating then it can take weeks or even months to find an error and by then it can take a long time to unstitch the work, which will have a significant impact on other areas of the business.
Job automation also finds itself at risk of the adage ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’. When set-up poorly or with over reliance on data from other sources, it’s imperative that those data flows are up to date, accurate and in a format where changes made at source are not going to corrupt the automated job. If the job has been automated by a sole employee, without any input from the wider organisation, then there is likely to be an increased chance that the output may not be fit for purpose over time and once those outputs begin to be scrutinised then the individual may be left with nowhere to hide.
We should also consider the potential resentment that other employees might begin to feel. People are great at getting the feeling that someone in the team is rightly or wrongly not pulling their weight. This will lead to a breakdown in team dynamics, trust and ultimately performance.
We are moving into Industry 4.0 at speed and the impact on business and the job market is going to be considerable. Automation is leading to job substitution and it is therefore important for SMEs to invest now in new occupations, skills and the geography of their business and reach of their products.
Job automation is a positive thing. It must be managed properly. It requires transparency and openness between departments and teams to understand the benefits of automation and the increased productivity that comes as a result. Teams should communicate early on and understand the objectives and the balances and checks that need to be put in place. The ability to press a button and run a report is only worthwhile if the data going into the automation is accurate and reliable.
Ultimately, those organisations who embrace innovation and technological change will grow and develop faster. It is a team effort that requires a cultural shift towards digital transformation and, with that, an investment in skills and future planning. We should not fear automating elements of our job roles, but those who think that it means they can kick back, put their feet up and let a computer do their work are in for a big shock.