Sandy Kemsley’s Vlog - AI and Automation: Friends or Foes?
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AI and Automation: Friends or Foes?

By Sandy Kemsley

Video Time: 8 Minutes

Hi, I’m Sandy Kemsley of I’m here for the Trisotech blog to continue with last time’s discussion of Artificial Intelligence and BPM. Actually, I’m going to address the larger topic of Process Automation in general, how this impacts businesses and people, and then how AI fits into this.

We see a lot of press. Now, about the dangers of AI: it’s going to take our jobs, it’s going to take over our lives, we’re all going to become slaves to the robots… Okay that’s mostly a bit of an exaggeration but there is a lot of Doom and Gloom around the topic of AI, this isn’t a new phenomena though, it’s not just about AI. If we look at um a promo for a recent book on this topic, so there’s a book called “Blood in the machine”, it says in the promo: “the most urgent story in modern tech begins not in Silicon Valley, but 200 years ago in rural England when workers known as the Luddites rose up rather than starve at the hands of factory owners who were using automated machines to erase their livelihoods”. In short, the alarm currently being raised over AI isn’t a new phenomena.

It happens with pretty much any new technology. In most cases the technology itself is not the problem, it’s the social constructs around how it’s used and the rights of the workers and other people who are impacted by the technology. I’m not any sort of expert in those fields but I’ve always seen fears about Automation in the business process projects that I’ve been involved in. Now, I started in process automation back in the Imaging and workflow day several decades ago, and at that time there were people whose job it was to push carts full of file folders around between different desks, based on handwritten routing slips on the folders, so the routing slips and the mail carts were the workflow of that age and the jobs of the people who filled out those routing slips and pushed those carts around were definitely impacted by the projects that we implemented for Imaging and workflow it took those file folders and made them electronic and it took away most of those carts that traveled around from one desk to another.

Now, after that we had years of “business process re-engineering” which in many cases was just an excuse for companies to downsize their Workforce, but it was also to some degree enabled by business automation. So processes that were previously very manual required a lot of human decision points, were suddenly partially or even fully automated.

Now, the last several years have fine-tuned that process automation by integrating in decision management, this is a huge factor in reducing human decision- making in business processes, so the process and the decision automation just keeps getting more intelligent. Now, we’ve also integrated many other systems through direct calls between systems or robotic process automation which means that there’s a lot less people doing copy and paste or reing of information between different systems that also means that there are many fewer errors due to copy paste and rekeying data, and it takes less time, so the automation gets faster and better too.

Now, does this mean that some of the people involved in those processes have radically um different jobs now, or maybe even had to find a different job altogether? Absolutely! Does it mean that customers are seeing different levels of service and quality both improvements and failures? Of course! And does it mean that companies are succeeding or failing financially based in part on their decisions about when and how to deploy automation? Well yeah! We saw that in excruciating detail during the business disruptions of the pandemic, which I’ve talked about in previous videos.

What I’m trying to to say is that in most cases the automation technology itself isn’t inherently good or bad. It can result in job losses, it can also improve job satisfaction by reducing the boring routine work, it can help customers get what they want faster through self-service, or it can create a frustrating customer experience when something goes wrong that’s not accounted for in the automation. It can make a company more profitable and efficient, it can also backfire and create a customer satisfaction nightmare.

I think we’ve all seen examples of both the positive and negative side of of all of these for the people who work with the technology, for the customers who are impacted by it, and for the companies who bring this new technology in. So this is true for most types of business automation that we deal with today: BPM, systems decision management, process mining, RPA and yes how AI is used with all of these.

I don’t think that people on the customer side of business want to return to the pre-automation days for the most part. You remember the bad old days when a straightforward business transaction like getting car loan or processing a simple Insurance claim, could take weeks or even months. So automation is also what gives us a lot of online self-service for customers so you can now buy office supplies with a couple of clicks, or you can make a stock market trade in your pajamas at home, or you can renew your fishing license on the weekend. All of these things are possible because of automation.

Now, if you look at the business’s side of these transactions, they don’t want to return to the mountains of paper files and the manual processes. They also don’t want to return to having critical business procedures exist primarily as folklore in the heads of people within the company that may or may not stay with the company in in the long term. Now, from a purely practical standpoint, there’s no putting the automation technology to toothpaste back in the tube any more than we’re going to go back to handloom textiles from the pre-Luddite days. Organizations are going to use automation or not use it for their own reasons, and there will be both good and bad things that happen because of that. As consumers, workers, business owners, and citizens we have a say in both the positive and negative impacts of automation.

Now, as I mentioned in my last video, I believe the current doomsaying about AI is a bit over blown. AI isn’t going to completely take over all of our business processes, any more than the previous generations of technology did. AI can increase the complexity of things that can be fully automated, but that’s always being a constantly changing threshold with every new generation of Technology. The same could be said for decision management. The same could be said for business process management in general. These things always make it so that you can automate more and more complex things, the more of these technological components that you bring in.

Now, where automation technology including AI can can really help and really add value, is when it provides guidance to knowledge workers to help them do the best possible job without replacing those roles. So it’s not just about taking the repetitive low skill jobs and automating them, it’s also about letting lower skilled workers work on more complex jobs because they have some amount of a automated guidance, and they will also learn as they work without risking violating the company policies or procedures. So you can still have people in the processes, you can have some things that are automated, and you can have the people who remain in the process be guided by the technology, AI, decision management, business Process Management, to make sure that they’re doing the right thing at the right time. And given that a lot of Industries have a lack of skilled knowledge workers, letting them be more productive earlier is a good thing for everybody involved.

That’s all for today. You can find more of my writing and videos on the Trisotech blog or on my own blog at See you next time.

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