Written by
George Zarkadakis
Willis Towers Watson

10 May 2018

Intelligent automation: redefining employment relationships

10 May 2018 • by George Zarkadakis

What does the future working world, enabled by automation, look like - and how can you reshape your organisation accordingly?

We are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is characterised by the convergence of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It is now possible for organisations to deconstruct jobs into component tasks and choose among many emerging options for completing these tasks, including AI and robotics, machine learning and talent on a platform.

To capture the opportunities in this new world of work, you will need an understanding of the enablers of automation as well as a framework to guide your decision making as you redefine employment relationships and organisational boundaries.

Enablers of automation

In this new world of work, it is critical for employers to understand which tasks might best be completed using intelligent automation versus other options. Three key automation technologies are particularly important:

  • Robotic process automation (RPA): Organisations use RPA to automate high-volume, low-complexity, routine business processes. RPA is especially effective where data needs to be updated and/or transferred from one software programme to another.
  • Cognitive automation: This emerging practice, which includes AI and machine learning, is used to supplement or replace humans in non-routine complex tasks. Because cognitive systems have the ability not only to quickly sift through massive amounts of data but also to reason and form hypotheses, their expertise in different areas improves over time and adds to an organisation’s knowledge base.
  • Social robotics: Social robotics involves the combination of physical equipment, AI and sensors, resulting in machines that interact with humans. The classic example is a driverless car or truck.

A decision-making framework

But to capture the opportunities, you need to think about work differently. With traditional employment, work is “constructed” into jobs, collected at a point and space in time, and executed through an employment relationship. The organisation is self-contained, detached, insular and protective, and has a rigid shape. The reward package is permanent, collectively consistent and uses traditional elements (e.g. money, hours, working conditions).

In a future world, work is deconstructed into tasks, dispersed in time and space, and executed through many virtual and market relationships other than traditional employment.

The organisation is permeable, interconnected and collaborative, and can change in shape. The rewards are impermanent and individually defined, and use imaginative elements (e.g. game points, reputation, mission).

Start experimenting

To get started on this journey, your company should experiment by selecting a few jobs to deconstruct. First, you might want to identify jobs in areas where your organisation is having difficulties attracting talent. Once these jobs are deconstructed into tasks, evaluate the speed-to-capability, risk and cost implications of different work options. You might then find that your best option is to access world-class talent via a talent platform for tasks requiring highly sought-after skills.

Alternatively, identify areas where work has been done in the same way for a long time and where you suspect that the work might be done faster or cheaper. For example, an organisation might decide to deconstruct a job that’s been done the same way for 20 years and use RPA to complete some of the routine tasks and hire someone on a talent platform to tackle the non-routine tasks.

Finally, it will be essential for an organisation to communicate their plans to all stakeholders — leaders, managers and employees — who will need to understand this new way of getting work done.

Deconstructing jobs and making decisions as to how best to complete the work using resources inside and outside of the organisation can confer significant competitive advantage. Analysis by Willis Towers Watson shows that when companies deconstruct jobs and distribute the work using the most efficient and effective means can typically realise savings in the 60% to 80% range. This is a significantly greater savings than the 30% typically achieved through outsourcing.

Willis Towers Watson