I Report to a Bot

Rakesh Narang, Associate Director & Location Head, XeroxWith over 18 years of experience of working in different organizations with a varied backdrop of work culture & business priorities, Rakesh is currently designated with Xerox as Associate Director & Location Head.

Do you miss the parking attendants at parking lot of your regular shopping Mall?

About a decade ago, the 2 big supermarket chains in Australia experimented with self-checkout counters (with some supervisors to assist) to study its impact on customer experience, as a part of their CBA to induct technology in their store operations and explore automation. Those counters provided customers to checkout themselves without the need to have a cashier taking care of cart scanning and payments. A few years on and we have Amazon opening its Amazon Go stores with no checkout neededAT ALL.

Be it the job of a parking attendant or a software coder any job with a repetitive nature was scrutinized under the automation microscope already and has been automated to various extents. Automation is often associated with repetitive work such as torqueing a bolt, capturing or providing information or providing customers support or even combing through contracts during an audit. However, a more ‘daring’ hypothesis was to explore the same dimension about the management jobs. Yes, daring because the premise itself was usually negated upfront as this job involves more intuitive and prompt decision making skills which on many occasions are first of its kind situation based which a machine isn’t expected to master(as yet) despite developments AI CI or EI or we can say that the idea of automating their own job never excited any manager to dedicate a team to explore that.

More often, it has been argued that the management tasks are very creative that it’s very unlikely to automate them any time soon, in the early phases of the Industrial Revolution, a similar argument was made about the work related to
detailed craft. However, after some attempts to break down that work into discrete steps, automated craftsmanship became a thing. and in the century gone by the Assembly lines have transformed our world dramatically.

Modern management is also on the brink of a similar transformation,although management is an information intensive activity softwares are steadily picking up the science of understanding human behavior and learning the art of taking balanced decisions for businesses. According to a McKinsey report 25 percent of a CEO’s current job can be managed by robots and 35 percent of management tasks can be automated and an HBR article mentions a prototype management tool that showed how it can supervise a research project for a client by coordinating the work of contract workers.

Automation is often associated with repetitive work such as torqueing a bolt, capturing or providing information or providing customers support

Bill Gates and Larry Summers have come forward to warnus about the pace and impact of automation and digital systems. Up until recently, in the face of continuously improving robotics this has mainly focused on the future of blue collarjobs and white collar staff in the face of outsourcing and productivity software, for that reason, executives assumed that their own positions are immune, they were WRONG.

No matter how strong and valid the arguments may sound, one thing is for sure and that goes with my Mantra in life, Change is the Only Constant. Given the pace at which the research is yielding results in the space of AI and ML, the day is not far when we will get used to seeing some of the creative and not just mundane tasks of a manager being performed by robots which are both commercially and diplomatically practical.

Taking that thought a little farther imagining a senior management meeting to decide on expanding the capacity of their current production unit. A lot must go into this decision like the current capacity cost of expansion, sales forecasts, competition situation, market condition geo political situation in the market and in the country of operations etcetera etcetera. As they Again, by breaking it down into discreet tasks and then using various tools to consolidate all the information and recommend a decision for review and stamping can be a very easy first step in that direction. And a lot of companies today have already started testing similar approaches in low risk management decisions and given the success ratio the confidence is just increasing.

To say that a manager’s job is immune to the technological changes is not correct, to what extent and how soon will these be impacted needs to be seen. Sometimes, due to the poor ROI the decision to invest in such niche technologies is deferred. However, as the risk taking appetite of companies increases (especially the startups with less at risk to lose), they are more & more willing to invest time and resources in studying the patterns of a manager’s jobs more deeply. And with that the individuality of a manager’s job starts to lose and gets captured in one of their bundles(or types) and from there it will just be a version upgrade of my ‘Manager’.