With many finding the rise of automation and artificial intelligence unnerving, it’s important to make education key in alleviating fears

THE concept of widespread automation can seem frightening, somewhat dystopian even, bringing out our internal luddites to protest against something that is seen to be harmful to our future.
The truth is that automation is here and has been for many years; the difference is in how it is approached and is informed by lessons of past industrial revolutions.

“We can call automation the fourth industrial revolution,” says Simon Greenwood, Intelligent Automation Lead at CGI. “The difference with this revolution is that we can learn the lessons of the past, whether it was steam, electricity or even the internet.

“With those huge shifts we had never seen it before. We weren’t prepared for it. I personally think now with the fourth industrial revolution, with its advancement of all kinds of technology, we can see the affect it will have on human activity and we’ve known about this for a decade.”

Preparation is all, from governments and the public sector through to private companies and individuals, and preparation means changing how we are educated and how the current workforce is re-educated.

“If we look back at the first industrial revolution, the majority of people will have worked on the land and would have had to upskill and work in the factories. 

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FUTURE OPTIMISM: Sumant Kumar, Director of Digital Transformation at CGI.

“That is changing and now people need greater skills to oversee the technology that will be performing tasks. In the past 30 to 40 years we’ve been providing technology that doesn’t replace the work but allows technology to carry out the tasks humans do more efficiently. 

“Now we will get to a point where the machines will do some or all of the work, which will leave people free to pursue more different, satisfying opportunities.”

Sumant Kumar, Director Digital Transformation at CGI, agrees that moving away from repetitive factory-style work, whether that’s on a production line or inputting reams of data, to a more knowledge-based form of work will enhance the employee’s experience. 

“Not only that, it will lead to more productive organisations, therefore benefiting the wider economy. 

“Passing on the mundane tasks to robots and reskilling workforces to do more cognitive work can only improve happiness and well-being.

“So there’s an argument about retention of people as well, because if people feel that they’re being valued and challenged, that they are being recognised for those cognitive skills then they are more likely to stay with an organisation.”

Simon and Sumant both believe that one of the greatest benefits of taking the workforce out of “the back office” and upskilling means that customer-facing roles and the softer skills that come naturally to us will be in even greater demand. Automation will make the world more human rather than less so.

“Think about the changes on the London Underground,” says Simon. “They closed ticket offices because more of us are using our contactless card, but the employees were reskilled and now work closer to the passengers, on the platforms to improve safety. 

That utilisation of people in different ways to give a better service to citizens and customers will grow.”

Sumant adds that the growth of importance in softer skills and customer service will make organisations much more competitive and employees much harder to replace.

He points to the boredom that can come with performing dull, repetitive tasks. “When you are doing a task that you don’t really enjoy, people make mistakes. Let’s face it, data entry is not the most stimulating work. I’m sure most of us have had experiences where human error has led to problems with utility bills or something similar. That can take a lot of time to sort out on both sides and lead to real customer dissatisfaction.”

When CGI works with an organisation on automation, Simon adds, it starts with what the drivers for that are. “Automating human activity, ok, you’re going to reduce cost, but 90% of the time it isn’t the main reason why organisations automate. It’s more to do with improvement of morale and the service they give to the customers, or in the case of the public sector, the citizens.

"For example, I had a meeting with a senior police representative recently and the discussion was how to use automation in such a way that we free up officers back on to the beat.”
The benefits to national productivity and competitiveness from automation cannot be stressed highly enough, but the personal gains could also mean more fulfilled working lives.

AI and automation can work for everyone

New digital technologies offer organisations the opportunity to improve employees’ skillsets to become more  productive and secure

THERE is a “duty of care” from newspapers, magazines and companies such as CGI to help and guide the population through this fourth industrial revolution. 

“We need to filter the information down to everybody in society, particularly educators and large organisations, so that we can begin to skill and upskill and reskill,” says Simon Greenwood. 

“Amazon announced that it is upskilling and retraining 100,000 employees in America because of increased automation.

“For my generation, who would write off to The Beano and have to wait 28 days for delivery, being able to place an order and receive it the next day is incredible. 

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SECURITY FIRST: Simon Greenwood, Intelligent Automation Lead at CGI.

“But there is still that human contact, with the person who knocks at the front door to deliver that parcel.”

The applications of automation touch every part of everyday life and have vital ramifications for security.

One area in which CGI is using automation is in cyber security work. With clients who have data processing activity all across the world, there need to be teams of people looking for the markers and triggers to identify cyber attacks.

“It’s like a needle in a haystack when there are 1.5 terabytes of data a day,” says Simon. 

“So, what CGI did was use predictive analytics, advanced analytics to identify the potential cyber attacks. That did the work of 100 people. 

“So anywhere you’ve got large amounts of data, to make decisions or understand new services, technology can be used to do that, instead of trying to find the thousands of people you’d actually need to do the work.”

Managing IT is a large area of CGI’s work and automation within that allows the clients and CGI itself to use artificial intelligence to carry it out, but as Sumant Kumar adds, it has led to CGI hiring more people to carry out the higher 
value work. 

“In the past the traditional industries such as coal and even car manufacturing, could have been prepared for it,” adds Simon. 

“In the early 1990’s a large UK employer made approximately 50,000 employees redundant as they transitioned from analogue to digital services. Large numbers of their employees were given little opportunity to retrain and reskill. 

“For whatever reason, government and the organisations weren’t prepared as well as they could have been for the level of change of this wave of technology. Change of the scale has to be managed. 

“With this fourth industrial revolution, we have the potential to guide people through it. 

“The vast majority of people are probably unaware of how fast technology is advancing and the implications for their future employment.

"This is an opportunity for organisations to improve 
in every way, with each using the technology on its own bespoke journey.”