What impact automation and artificial intelligence will have on jobs in the workplace was the subject of a discussion by three leading CIOs at last month's CIO Summit in London.
The use of AI in the enterprise has been the subject of science-fiction and analyst hype for a number of years, but with the technology capabilities maturing a number of organisations are at the early stages of adoption. Indeed, according to the 2017 CIO 100 some 38% of CIOs cited artificial intelligence as one of the emerging technologies which would have the biggest impact on their sector and organisations and the number of use cases is increasing.
Discussing the next wave of transformation at the 2017 CIO Summit were Lloyd's of London CIO Jennifer Rigby, British Council CIO Laura Dawson and N Brown Group CTO Tim Price, Responding to a question from Tata Steel's UK IT director, Nick Reeks, about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence on jobs, and employee reactions to planned AI initiatives, the expert panel acknowledged that AI was both an opportunity and a threat, but that the real value-add at the present time was in freeing up knowledge workers to perform less routine tasks.
Lloyd's of London CIO Jennifer Rigby: So far it's been a very positive reaction. I think they want to be able to serve more customers. They want to be able to do more things and they are full of ideas about other potential things that they could do. Again they are constrained by the volume of work that comes in and the amount of people that there are. They are looking at it as technology is not a bullet that will solve everything. They're seeing that by being involved in the project itself.
What they are seeing is it can actually take away some of the things that they find less challenging. It is much more supporting a move away from more routine tasks. They are then looking at the relationship, the future of the service.
I think those are probably principles that run across. It's not a threat to everything. It's an opportunity as well as a threat to something. We're viewing it very much as it's about automating the things that we don't actually need our people to be focused on, because there are plenty of other things that we want people to be thinking about. We want them to have the opportunities to do that disruption and to do further work. To look at ways that will grow the business and to do some of the things that add much more value.
British Council CIO Laura Dawson: For us it is a challenge. It's a difficult thing to tackle. It's going to be very difficult. We're actually operating in a number of different cultures. In some cultures the adoption of technology is seen as an opportunity. In others it's seen as a threat. There is something about handling that with a straight bat. Having the principles approach to it. I think it would be wrong to say that the advent of AI is going to mean that we're freeing people up to do more interesting jobs all the time.
Because there is an element that we are reducing the amount of things, cost - and that does mean reduction somewhere along the lines. I think we have to play with a straight bat on it and understand where it's going to bring interest and development for people and where actually it's going to mean a reduction in cost.
N Brown Group CTO Tim Price: I don't think it's any different than the other efficiencies opportunities really. It allows closely the best job, more firm job, or more streamline something in those areas. It's like you give a colleague a new fast app, it's generally a bracelet. It's giving them that sort of, as you said more fulfilling roles. A long way to go yet I think before we do that.