Best Practices for Adapting to Automation

April 5, 2018

Best Practices for Adapting to Automation

The global, machine-learning market is set for explosive growth, reaching $8.8 billion by 2022, up from $1.4 billion in 2017. This should be a wake-up call to business decision makers who must act now to help shape the way automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence are expected to transform the global workforce of the future.

Despite continued media focus on potentially negative impacts of deploying new technologies, enlightened executives should aim to reframe the conversation in a more positive light, focusing on the unequivocal upsides to emerging technology developments—and the imperative those developments represent in reaching an equilibrium between the human and digital workforces.

From its inception, Ernst & Young LLP’s (EY’s) intelligent automation strategy—beginning with the introduction of robotic process automation (RPA)—centered on preparing our people for what’s next through a three-pronged, people-centered approach: build awareness, develop skills, and introduce new technology. Here are a few of our lessons learned:

Build Awareness

For an intelligent automation strategy to be successful, leaders must first ensure that their teams are comfortable with the idea adapting to new technologies is an inevitable part of the business landscape. This can be done by sharing news on the topic (of which there is no shortage), as well as communicating frequently and consistently about how your organization is adapting to technology-driven change.

For some time, EY leadership has been talking in earnest about the “future of work,” making the concept familiar—a part of daily communications. It’s a language we have all started to speak, reinforcing that new skillsets—such as data analytics and Lean Six Sigma—and new approaches to physical workspaces within EY, are being transformed, and everyone is encouraged to be active participants in building awareness around these transformative changes.

How have we encouraged participation in spreading the word? When we rolled out RPA, for example, we held a competition to elicit ideas from our professionals for ways the new bots (software robots) could be used to enhance efficiency and quality, while also supporting enhanced opportunities for our people, e.g., freeing up time for more strategic pursuits.

This spirit of healthy competition encouraged communication, participation and demonstrated how the technology would be executed—not as a threat, but as a helpful collaborator. Put simply, it got people talking, and, we believe, it allayed a lot of fears.

Developing Skills

Knowledge, of course, is at the foundation of all great work. Building on existing general and domain knowledge adds value to one of your greatest existing assets—your employees. We call it upskilling. In tech terms, think of upskilling as Employee 2.0, like when you download new software for a mobile phone or laptop. You have the existing hardware, but after developments in technology and processes, it’s critical to upskill to ensure both the employee and your business have a competitive edge.

One way we approached upskilling was by better aligning internal learning programs with competencies that we knew would be needed in the next one to five years. Launch of this initial intensive learning program—which we called Elite Skills Week—in December has now morphed into a bigger initiative that will facilitate upskilling on an ongoing basis.  The launch program included courses in data analytics, project management, RPA, and mindfulness. Hundreds of our employees came away with enhanced skills that better equip them to be part of the future of work and our firm’s future success.

Keep Up With New Technology

When disruption from technology comes knocking, leaders have two options: stick their heads in the sand, or welcome change with gusto. The first option is easier, but it does nothing to prepare employees for the future of work, nor the business’ long-term survival in a constantly changing marketplace. So how do you embrace change if you’re completely daunted by the task?

At EY, we began embracing change by first setting our goals: stay a step or two ahead of disruptive forces and lead from the front. We also focused on spotting trends, assessing risks and identifying ways to attain first-mover advantage in hot topic areas of our profession. And we committed to realistic planning based on what we were finding.

By putting our people first in setting our strategic direction, we found ways to implement RPA that benefited our people, enhanced their career growth opportunities and added value to their contributions. In short, we found a way to fuse humans and technology, not overwhelm or eliminate people with technology. We are continuing this approach as we go deeper into the newer areas of artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies and block chain.

The key is to never get complacent, no matter how big you are or how far out in front you may think you already are. Keep an open mind, acknowledge new facts and realities and stay informed about emerging trends and market dynamics.

Encourage an innovation mindset among both executives and employees, which will lead to flexible thinking and original solutions. And be sure everyone is equipped with the information and learning they need to stay on top of developments. Last but not least, once strategic decisions about direction are made, act quickly. You can be assured that if you don’t, someone else will.

The Authors: 

Martin Fiore is Tax Talent Leader–Americas at EY (Ernst & Young), where he oversees attracting, retaining, growing, and supporting talent through a comrehensive holistic approach to compensation, benefits, recognition, and well-being programs.