Is Your Job At Risk Of Automation?

Knowledge worker’s jobs will be able to be replaced with automation and it will happen faster than we expect. I think the pace of change will accelerate because new technology is now so easy to adopt in the cloud and innovations are rolled out faster than ever before.

Last week I blogged about Automated Accountants, which was discussing chatbot use cases rather than full automation of a person. However the concept of automating what knowledge workers do today to the point were we really do have a fully automated accountant is something I have been researching too.

I had a twitter discussion with Vinnie Mirchandani (@dealarchitect) about automation as he is authoring a book on the subject.  I agree with him that dirty and dangerous jobs are the first candidates for automation, but I also believe knowledge jobs are good candidates too and it will happen faster than many expect.  In the world of finance we have seen continual adoption of technology to move us from paper based Ledgers to highly automated cloud accounting software with integrated reporting, social networks, mobile etc. I think the pace of change will accelerate because new technology is now so easy to adopt in the cloud and innovations are rolled out faster than ever before.  So automation will happen quicker for those corporations that are already adopting these cloud based business applications.

I came across an interesting article on the BBC entitled Will a Robot Take My Job? which has some nice tools to let you search for your job and determine how likely it is to be automated and despite my earlier assertions I was surprised that accounting professions were so high on the list of those that would be automated.  You can see my summary graphic below

automation

The full report from Oxford University’s Martin School is worth a read as it goes into a lot of detail of skills that are hard for a machine to replicate and those that are easier so you can understand the reasoning behind the ratings.  My profession in software development has a pretty low chance of being automated, I have to come up with original ideas and negotiate and these are things it is harder (at the moment) for machines to automate but it might just be a matter of time.

This will not happen in one shot, but over time more and more tasks will be automated, which is good because it will give is some time to think about the much bigger issue; what do we do now so much of what we as a workforce do is automated?  The common wisdom is the workers will gradually move to work on higher value tasks that cannot easily be automated and drive greater and greater value.  There is a lot of evidence to support this, but that discussion probably deserves a blog post of it’s own.

Automated Accountants: Personal Assistant Technology

We can use personal assistant technology bots to use context and intelligence to provide a natural interface and increase participation in our cloud applications.

robot-accountantIn my house, Alexa (aka Amazon Echo) is part of the family.  My young children check the weather whilst eating their breakfast, see how their favorite sports teams are doing, get some jokes, movie times and anything that pops into their head they will just “Ask Alexa”.  They also have a lot of fun seeing how Apple’s Siri and Alexa answer the same questions and which works better for what.  Observing these interactions and interacting myself has been a very good hands on research exercise and I have been thinking for a while of enterprise applications.

We can use personal assistant technology bots to use context and intelligence to provide a natural interface and increase participation in our cloud applications.We can increase participation on two groups of users

  • Casual Users
    • They have infrequent and limited interactions with the applications and do not have the time, or the training and familiarity with the capabilities to participate effectively.  They don’t know what information they can get, never mind how to get it.
  • Power Users
    • For these users it is about reducing the time it takes to do highly repetitive or UI intensive tasks.  This is like me at home getting sports scores or weather from Amazon Echo, I could easily look it up on my phone but it is easier to just say “Alexa, weather” whilst I am pouring my coffee.

I put together a team to enter a hackothon by our UX innovation team last month and we tried to focus on the former use case.  A high level manager who is very busy, runs a team of 50-100 people and manages to budgets but does not have a secretary.  We imagined her wanting to know details of budgets and implemented three flows

  1. Inquiry on remaining budget
  2. Details of who spent a budget on what
  3. Transfer funds from one budget to another (say from travel to computer hardware)

We spent a lot of time trying to make the interactions as natural as possible, so getting the natural language trained correctly was key and we also wanted to use Amazon Echo, IM and SMS messages to interact with the live data in an ERP Cloud environment.

It was a great experience and we learned a lot technically. but probably more of a revelation was the different design strategy for these types of interaction.  The other teams also did some amazing things(read the event review here) so we were pleased to pick up third place overall and the People’s Choice Award (voted on by all the participants).

I fully expect Automated Personal Assistants to be a key interaction model for Enterprise applications going forward, just as we are seeing them start to take off in the consumer space.   Exciting times.

Simplicity is the key to Usability

Reading Meg’s post on the Talented Apps blog I was inspired to write a quick blog post rather than leave a long comment. Meg talks about how we can strive to improve the usability of our applications, something that we need to continually work on. We did what we thought was the right thing with our AGIS out of the box in R12, but this was really just scratching the surface, there is always room for improvement and we need to constantly reduce the complexity we present to users.

John Maeda has an excellent book and companion website on the laws of simplicity, which is a must read. I have lent the book out to a lot of people and I can’t remember who has it now, but if it’s you and you’re reading this – please return it! This book lays out a set of laws that all design should adhere to in order to reduce complexity and having these ideas in the front of your mind is going to help guide you in the right direction when working on designs.

It is a challenge to create a set of complex applications, but the real challenge is to keep the complexity hidden giving a simple user experience and this is where I believe applications vendors will provide most value going forward.  We simply need to reduce the complexity (and hence cost) associated with owning applications without sacrificing any functionality – this is not easy, but I like a challenge and fortunately the people I work with do too.