As artificial intelligence (AI) transforms entire industries and their business models, it looks inevitable that momentous changes to organizational workflows will follow - affecting employees, their jobs and, ultimately, the customers they serve.
Exploring this theme at the Fidelity Investment Conference 2018, expert speakers described how the workplace of the future will look, as companies experiment with AI, machine learning (ML), robotics and other innovations to automate tasks, reduce risks, cut costs, increase profitability and enhance the customer experience.
Looking into the future
The considerable impact of AI is evident in tools such as intelligent process automation (IPA), which are helping companies across industries automate nearly 70% of tasks, reducing processing times by as much as 60%, and producing triple-digit returns on investment, according to McKinsey.
Gartner predicts that by 2022, 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology such as machine-learning application, chatbot or mobile messaging, up from only 11% in 2017. Phone-based communications will drop to 12% of overall customer service interactions (down from 41% now), though a human will still be involved in 44% of all interactions.
PwC estimates that the proportion of jobs at risk from automation range from a minimum of 21% in Japan to as much as 38% in the US. By 2025, businesses estimate they will need to retrain 24% of employees as their roles evolve, and rehire for 21% of roles1.
Undoubtedly, the technology is getting smarter, increasingly playing a role in our work and daily lives. Some common examples are conversational computers like Alexa and Google Assistant, which can perform tasks ranging from booking flights and hotel rooms, to managing investments and tracking business performance.
Overall, most trends point to an increasingly automated workplace where humans will continue to be relevant, albeit performing different jobs than in the past.
However, the journey to such an automated future is expected to be a gradual one, filled with challenges.
Will humans continue to be relevant in future workplaces?
The evolving workplace
Fidelity International, which sees a big opportunity in building a digital workforce, expects AI to impact all operating models in the financial services space. The company is using this versatility to:
- predict hardware and software failures in its technology platforms
- support investment management research
- detect anomalies and risks in its regulatory framework
- use chatbots to interact with clients in new and different ways.
The company’s innovation program, which is already producing benefits in the form of better client and employee engagement systems, while reducing costs and risks, has several bots in production.
AI is seen as an especially effective tool in managing client relations. From customer acquisition and onboarding, to anticipating and delivering on expectations, to upselling and cross-selling products and services - AI is assisting companies through the entire sales funnel.
Future technology is expected to become smart enough to predict which customers are likely to leave, and then devise strategies to retain them.
Stuart Morley is Fidelity International's Head of Technology in Asia.
Riding the trough
While AI’s capabilities in enhancing organisational efficiencies are no longer in question, the main challenge lies in picking the right technology that can add the most value.
This can be an especially difficult and frustrating undertaking, as technology advances quickly, with new innovations surfacing frequently. This leads to organisations failing in their attempts to pivot from legacy business models.
Stuart Morley, Head of Technology, Asia, Fidelity International, illustrated the problem by citing blockchain as a prime example of new technology about which companies are struggling to understand and render commercially viable. Blockchain’s success is not in question, he said, just the way it can be scaled effectively.
These technological challenges are compounded by operational hurdles, such as securing appropriate levels of funding and people with the right skill sets – both in short supply, experts at the conference agreed – as well as broader issues such as aligning the various strategic goals of an organization, corporate governance and employee motivation.
Most importantly, companies should prioritise the problems that need solving, the speakers recommended, and focus their research and resources on selecting the technology best suited to address them.
Partnerships are also key, such as Fidelity’s relationship with universities, start-ups and venture capital funds. These can complement internal skill sets with critical thinking from an external perspective and assist in the innovation process.
Scouring every possible location and offering attractive remunerations is necessary to hire hard-to-find AI talent, the audience heard. And sharing the success of innovation internally is equally necessary to help keep the workforce motivated, Morley advised.
Evolution, not elimination
While agreeing on the many advantages of incorporating AI into the workplace, and the challenges in doing so, the expert speakers were also unanimous in their belief that AI’s role would be limited to helping humans making their lives and work better.
The World Economic Forum predicts that while 75 million jobs will become extinct by 2022, they will be replaced by 133 million new jobs.
The human touch cannot be replaced and any technological advances aimed at improving efficiencies and positive customer impact would need to have the interest of people at its core.
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