What a Phone Call Can Teach Us About Automation

Imagine you lost your mobile phone. How many phone numbers would you remember? In a world where initiating a voice or video call requires no more than the touch of a screen or a voice command, we increasingly depend on digital memory.

What’s Your Number?

Digital contact lists remember phone numbers on our behalf and allow us to dial on demand. Is our growing dependence on automation happening at the expense of our skills? Should workers be afraid of automation? For the purpose of the article, we define automation as the execution of a process requiring no human intervention where it previously did. We will not cover the technical or technological aspects of automation. We will only focus on its implications.

You Said Automation?

In recent past, switchboard operators were a necessary step to complete a long-distance or international call. Reaching the desired party could take several minutes. Yet today, who would have the patience to wait for more than a few seconds? Similarly, many functions in the workplace have experienced partial automation, from automated attendants to reports generation. For most executives and managers, automation has become a usual concept in the perpetual quest for streamlined labor costs and enhanced workforce productivity. In many cases, the same workforce probably perceives automation as a threat to their jobs. We argue that automation accelerates the pace of change in the workplace and that workers are better off embracing it.

Automation Operators v. Automation Managers

Losing a mobile phone can quickly become synonymous with digital disaster. This is especially true for users who fail to back up their precious data, because they only focus on the practical aspect of their contact list, i.e. automated dialing. For more informed users, basic digital hygiene dictates regular data backups, either manual or automated, to a hard drive or to the cloud… possibly with cross-device synchronization. Along these lines, we can establish a distinction between “operators of automation” and “managers of automation”. Operators tend to endure automation (i.e. lost phone = digital disaster), while “managers”, tend to benefit from it (i.e. lost phone = recovery options). In a wider business context, automation should be seen through the lens of a value-added process at all levels of the organization. Where computers brought more independence to users, automation helps them dedicate more time to skilled tasks.

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Who can say that their job has not evolved in the past decade? Whose job even existed a decade ago? While many equate automation to a substitute for labor, this holds true only in certain industries or functions. By taking on basic repetitive tasks, automated attendant systems guide you to the preferred department in your language of choice. This leaves more complex and creative tasks to better-trained workers. More generally, what will differentiate managers of automation from mere operators will be the ability to embrace and leverage automation as a tool of empowerment, rather than to consider it as a competing force. Everyone should be ready to face this latest evolution of our current work environment, by developing additional skills.

The Future of Automation

Not so long ago, switchboard operators became irrelevant for long-distance and international calls, as rotary phones, keypads and automatic switching became the norm. However, complexity in the workplace makes it unlikely that individual functions will disappear because of automation. Undoubtedly, the amount of automation will keep increasing in many functions. Workers should really welcome the evolution and not think twice before relinquishing the less exciting portion of their job to automation. Indeed, with more automation, workers can make a case for much higher salaries, as they will be producing more value for the company. Ultimately, automation may lead to higher expectations for human interactions, since workers will only handle complex situations that fall outside the realm of automation.


Disclaimer:
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and Wipro does not subscribe to the substance, veracity or truthfulness of their views.