Automation and leadership

automation2One topic that has been getting people excited over the last few years is that robots are going to replace many jobs or make some jobs much more boring. That is not even touching on the whole autonomous robot rebellion crowd’s concerns (I posted about an AI risks related podcast on NPR just last week).

Robotics is taking important roles ranging from milking cows, to working in kitchens, to logistics and order fulfillment. Now they are taking on more important functions in our business processes that used to be the domain of knowledge workers (even though it is happening slowly).

I do believe that the increased use of automation should shift how enterprises architects think about the enterprise and how that environment is structured. Automation is just another enterprise resource that needs to be defined, understood and optimized. The leaders are going to have to include these possibilities in their thought processes too.

These changes are inevitable. That got me thinking about a post that McKinsey put out about beating the transformation odds – after all automation efforts will be a transformation. Most of the article focused on the need for executive vision, clarity and communications. It also discussed the need for continuous improvement as part of the plan. Too often teams and breathe a sense of relief once a project is deployed, when in reality that is just point where it was given birth and now needs to develop and mature. Automation efforts are no exception.

Transformation is hard work, and the changes made during the transformation process must be sustained for the organization to keep improving.


3 thoughts on “Automation and leadership

  1. Charlie — good exposition!

    “…robots are going to replace many jobs” — that is a concern I share. To date, automation has increased productivity tremendously without reducing the total number of jobs, by creating new kinds of jobs at higher skill levels. But there may well be a limit on how long that can continue; if the required skill level is pushed above the typical person’s level of intellectual firepower, we have problems. And in any event, it will take a really good educational system to prepare people for those new kinds of jobs, not the dismal failure of an education system we have today, and I don’t see that transformation happening any time soon.

    “…make some jobs much more boring” — as someone who is creating tools to automate software engineering, my experience is the opposite. Almost by definition, any job that is boring for a person can be automated. Of course, this feeds into the concern described above.

    “Now they are taking on more important functions in our business processes that used to be the domain of knowledge workers (even though it is happening slowly).” Maybe not so slowly. Our computer language expert system provides automation of software engineering tasks, ranging from very simple ones to tasks so sophisticated that most programmers can’t even do them. I see this accelerating as more people realize they can get more done with their existing IT staff through automation, reducing risk and raising quality in the process. This actually echoes the story of automobile manufacturing, in which automation has drastically reduced the work force while dramatically improving manufacturing quality.

    “Too often teams and breathe a sense of relief once a project is deployed” — amen! I think this will be alleviated by automation reducing the risk and stress level (and drama!) in transformation projects, until they become just part of the workday world, instead of being the stress inducers they often are today.


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