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Itโ€™s Not Rocket Science: Making Automation Accessible Key To Digital Transformation

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Automation can save the job market, if put into the right hands. Digitally transformative technologies have become widely accepted by business leaders as a means of giving us a productivity boost akin to the industrial revolution. But as AI and automation technologies have been developed by the worldโ€™s most influential tech leaders, they risk becoming inaccessible to the average end user.

Enabling real people to utilize powerful automation tools will require a different approach to the current model of making technology so advanced and convoluted that the average user will never understand its inner workings. To get people back to work as smoothly as possible, while taking advantage of a completely restructured working world, โ€˜low-codeโ€™ automation could be an efficient way to get people comfortable with working alongside automation.

The devil you donโ€™t know

Business leaders are generally optimistic about new technologies, and automation is no exception. A recent report commissioned by my company, Pod Group, into how business leaders see automation in light of the Covid-19 pandemic reveals that automation is overwhelmingly seen as a positive thing in the C-suite. The study found that 91% of decision-makers consider that the pandemic will generate a new surge of workplace automation. However, whilst nearly three-quarters of business leaders feel that automation will help employees to fulfill their potential and aspirations, this drive for automation is not backed by a clear business strategy in 39% of cases, suggesting a disconnect between the aspirations of those at the top and the actual implementation of automation technologies.

Anxiety around automation in the workforce could, in fact, increase because of the pandemic, as the intention to automate as much as possible in order to boost productivity continues whilst many are jobless or furloughed. This could lead to further demonization of AI tools as โ€˜job stealersโ€™, and cast them as an insurmountable obstacle for people who have been out of work for months, and who feel they have to compete with robots to win their jobs back. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal notes that tech workers in the US are even more concerned about losing their jobs to automation than other industries, with 67% of tech workers worried about job loss compared to 44% in other industries. This could show that AI and automation are more likely to be seen as a threat when their mind-boggling capabilities are experienced first hand. To quell this kind of anxiety the conversation around automation must be reframed. If automation can be understood as a tool to enhance the core skills and competencies of humans, and is separated from the realm of groundbreaking computer science, then these technologies can finally be put to good use in the hands of ordinary working people.

Drag and drop automation

Rich Waldron, co-founder and CEO of Tray.io, a low-code automation platform based on linking tools via API, sees this rebranding of automation as a necessary step to pivot the workforce towards digital transformation. โ€œLook at what spreadsheets did for office workers,โ€ says Waldron, โ€œthey fast-tracked people to using calculus and figuring out highly complex algorithms to describe complicated trends and changes, but only using a spreadsheet.โ€ What the spreadsheet did for complex mathematics, Tray.io is trying to do for automation: โ€œwhat if people could suddenly have the capability of a computer engineer because they know how to drag and drop different data sets together?โ€ says Waldron. Connecting the tools that frontline workers are already familiar with, and allowing users to โ€œdesign the data mapping between themโ€ by literally drawing lines between tools, Waldron maintains is the kind of visualization that is key to getting workers comfortable with automation technologies.

โ€œQuite clearly automation is something we're all going to have to deal with whether we like it or not,โ€ says Waldron, โ€œif your industry disappears tomorrow what are you going to do? I think if you can learn the foundations of data structure and basic programming logic the world is your oyster again.โ€ Introducing automation in this simplified environment allows people to apply their existing domain expertise to a newly digitized process, and automate parts of their job function without having to earn a degree in computer science. People who have lost their jobs due to Covid can then adapt their existing knowledge and skills to a different mode of delivery while still using the tools and skills they have learnt. โ€œIf you can abstract away the heavyweight engineering part of the problem, and make it so it's more like building blocks, then you're enabling someone to solve a problem in their role they are already keenly aware of,โ€ says Waldron.

Building blocks and digital jobs

For automation to help lift the workforce and the economy out of a post-pandemic slump, the perception of digital technologies must be made more accessible, fast. Giving workers the tools they need to improve a job they already know how to do, and maximizing the productivity of โ€œall these people at home with extra time,โ€ says Waldron, is a necessary step towards normalizing automation for all.

Without familiarizing workers with automation and allowing them to embrace it as a way to make our lives easier, further advances in this technology will not be much use. Going back to basics could be just what automation needs to make a positive change in the world.

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