Change is good, but it also makes us anxious. This is especially true when a new technology promises to revolutionize the way we work. We marvel at the possibilities of AI and autonomous systems, but our excitement is tempered by the angst of uncertainty – how will these developments affect our jobs and way of life? Autonomous technologies are not the enemy, they’re just very powerful tools. When used to drive genuine progress, they may bring about the revolution businesses have been asking for.
The need to work faster, meet growing demand, and differentiate has always driven companies to enhance their performance with machines. From first farmers who used a mechanical plough, to Richard Arkwright’s invention of the water-powered mill, to Alan Turing’s cracking of the Enigma code, technology has been a powerful ally. And while these innovations have disrupted the job market, new roles and industry segments have been created in the long run, making our society more prosperous as a whole.
Today, AI and automation are driving a new transformation. The step change in productivity is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and the new skills we are developing to manage these technologies are up-levelling the workforce at an incredible pace, creating new forms of employment and changing the dynamic between traditional lines of business.
Man and machine working side-by-side
The autonomous enterprise is not devoid of humanity. On the contrary, as our research suggests, it is a place where machines take the robotic elements out of work so employees can operate at the highest level intellectually and emotionally.
Consider the following example – a day in the life of an autonomous enterprise employee:
Jill, a sales team leader at a major company, arrives at work in the morning. Her emails are sorted in order of priority, while her spam has been moved to the trash folder. Some emails have even been answered automatically, with previously registered responses. That’s at least one hour of admin eliminated.
Next, Jill opens a live dashboard of her customers’ details, organized based on her most recent activity with important files proactively highlighted for her attention and suggestions provided for the next best course of action. Rather than digging manually for answers to a customer issue, Jill can simply take on the recommendations provided by the autonomous system. Less time spent on process means more time spent creating value for her customers.
Because the data is live, the marketing team has been advised that Jill’s customers are now in a place where they are open to receiving targeted marketing materials on the company’s latest offering, thus supporting Jill’s efforts.
While she’s reviewing her customers’ orders, she gets a proactive notification from the system indicating there is a discrepancy between an invoice and the matching payment, with possible explanations for the change and how it could impact the client’s portfolio. Finance has been notified in parallel and have already seen the potential impact on forecasted revenue.
If one of Jill’s meetings overrun, the autonomous system proactively attempts to reschedule subsequent appointments based on her availability. Ahead of each commitment, it pulls out recent articles and information that might be of interest to each customer, while also reminding her of important responsibilities like employee reviews. With Jill’s team so busy, the autonomous enterprise takes the liberty of suggesting a bonding session to boost morale, with a couple of dates where her whole team is available.
In short, working in an autonomous enterprise means less time spent on administrative tasks, less opportunity for human error as a result of being overworked, and less focus on minutiae. Instead, workers have more time to serve customers, collaborate, and benefit from each other.
Change is here
As part of this autonomous revolution, the line between man and machine is blurring. Increasingly powerful systems are taking on tasks that were once considered beyond the ability of computers. We now rely on AI and automated systems to predict customer demand, detect people’s emotions, and even drive our cars.
This is automation taken to the next level with built-in intelligence. Traditional automation is like a fast-forward button, greatly speeding up processes but not changing them in any way. Users still needed to define how automated tasks worked and intervene each time a parameter changed. With today’s autonomous solutions, processes are not only faster, they are self-improving and self-repairing. Once powered, they will constantly look to work in more efficient ways, while AI algorithms suggest new outcomes that may be more favorable, and that a human mind could not compute alone.
Consider the way autonomous robots have transformed warehouse operations. Major ecommerce companies like Alibaba use armies of robots to navigate, retrieve, and deliver products, making it possible to fulfill orders at a previously unheard of pace. The robots operate like a well-oiled machine, avoiding obstacles, finding the fastest route to where they need to be, and turning warehouse management into a nearly autonomous process.
A global revolution
The rise of autonomous systems is not a niche phenomenon. Last year, Gartner predicted that “autonomous things” would be the top strategic technology trend of 2019. The rate at which countries, and businesses in those countries, embrace autonomous technology will dictate their competitiveness in the years to come.
The Economist Intelligence Unit released a ranking of nations based on their readiness to integrate intelligent automation. The 25 countries were assessed based on how well their policy environment is suited to making intelligent automation a reality, and the level of leadership they have shown with regards to digitization to date.
The results reveal that autonomous is indeed a global trend, but that even the most advanced countries have work to do when it comes to skills. For automation to have a positive long term effect, education policies and training programs must evolve to ensure the success of future generations in the workforce, in addition to the success of companies that will ultimately employ them.
In particular, the Economist Intelligence Unit emphasized the need for continual learning so that people are able to keep up with change. As robots and algorithms take on more routine tasks, we must prepare people to take on more human-oriented roles, which will require adaptability, creativity, and critical thinking over technical abilities.
At Oracle, we are pioneering autonomous technologies for the enterprise. For instance, the Oracle Autonomous Database is able self-patch, self-tune, and protect valuable data with no human intervention. Our broader Cloud Platform Services helps companies to get predictive insights from their data, while driving down operational costs and the risk of human error.