How future augmented workforces can drive business value

Human-machine partnerships are set to redefine roles, close skill gaps and unlock unprecedented productivity for organisations on a global scale

AI and automation are creating a new division of labour between humans and machines, with the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicting this evolution will disrupt 85 million jobs globally between 2020 and 2025 – and create 97 million new job roles. This radical shift is ushering in a new age of the augmented workforce, where human-machine partnerships boost productivity and deliver exponential business value.

Yet, this evolution is also widening the global skills gap, with the WEF predicting that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted between 2023 and 2028.

To explore these issues, Technology Magazine spoke with Andi Britt, Senior Partner — IBM Talent & Transformation, IBM Consulting Europe, whose insights offer valuable guidance for navigating this new landscape.

Defining the augmented workforce

“An augmented workforce at its simplest is a partnership between humans and machines that, in a large organisation context, boosts productivity,” explains Britt. “At IBM, we use the phrase ‘augmented intelligence’ because we have the principle that humans should be the ones making decisions, with technology providing insight and analysis.”

The idea of augmented intelligence is not about machines usurping human roles but enriching them. It is about leveraging AI-driven algorithms and large language models to enhance human decision-making. “The technology is there to provide insight, analysis and recommendation,” Britt adds, “but it's a human being making a decision.”

The evolution of jobs

When asked about how AI could change job roles, Britt argues for a broader historical perspective. “Whenever there's been a significant evolution of technology – whether it's the introduction of the cotton machine, the automobile replacing horse and cart, or whether it's the advent of the computer or the internet – it typically creates more jobs than it displaces,” he notes. 

Referencing an IBM Institute for Business Value survey involving more than 3,000 business leaders, Britt highlights that AI will have a “moderate to significant impact” on various job roles across sectors, ranging from finance to human resources. Executives told the Augmented work for an automated, AI-driven world report that they estimate that 40% of their workforce will need to reskill as a result of implementing AI and automation over the next three years.

“Rather than saying that AI will displace jobs, our view is it's going to displace some aspect of everyone’s job,” he said. “Those people who are competent and able to work with and harness AI over time are going to probably replace those people who are unable to harness this new technology and work effectively with AI. The challenge for organisations is how to work out what that impact is going to be and how to navigate there quickly.”

Harnessing business benefits

Among the advantages, Britt notes two key benefits. First, productivity will receive a significant boost, enabling tasks that once took hours to be completed in seconds. 

“When employees and managers have got complex decisions to make, the AI is there to come up with a first set of recommendations, so it will boost productivity. In some cases, it means that you can work with a smaller workforce or a smaller department to achieve the same output.”

Second, automation will free employees to engage in higher-value work. “We can focus on things that really matter rather than some of the administrative tasks,” he adds. Additionally, he believes generative AI can help tackle complex challenges like climate change and employee mental well-being.

“We've got challenges around climate change, we've got challenges in the workforce about driving employee engagement and we've also got challenges around dealing with mental wellbeing and mental health of our workforce. These are problems that I think generative AI is going to help us to solve.”

Starting points for organisations

Organisations seeking to harness the benefits of AI should consider three points: people, process, and technology. “Organisations need to prepare their staff for the massive and significant re-skilling that is going to be required,” Britt stresses. The process involves rapid experimentation to find the best use-cases for AI, while on the technology front, the entire operating model must be reconsidered. “You can't put new wine into old wine skins. The same principle applies with generative AI. You can't just take generative AI and put it into your old organisation. You can't just automate a bad process and assume that things are going to run more smoothly. 

“Organisations have to deconstruct their operating model, how they work today, how they serve their customers, how they develop their products and services and rethink it with a generative AI lens.”

Ethical challenges around the augmented workforce

The advent of generative AI has created anxieties around ethics and trust. Britt outlines three guiding principles at IBM: humans make the decisions, the decisions need to be transparent and that data ownership resides with the creator. 

“We want to build our technology and experiment in a way whereby the individual, the manager, the practitioner, the SME makes the decisions, not the technologies. The second one, which is equally important, is that the decisions need to be explainable and transparent. That way when you have some strong principles around explainability and transparency, you build trust within your workforce and indeed within your customers.

“The third principle is that all of the data that you are analysing and using to make your decisions or recommendations is owned by the owner of the data. In an age where actors, artists and musicians are concerned about the way that their copyright might be infringed by technology, we want to put a clear marker down that the data is owned by the creator, the originator of the data, not by the technology or tools.

“Having a dialogue with government, universities and public institutions will create an environment in which ethical use of AI is encouraged and is the norm, not the exception,” he elaborates.

A ‘takeoff point’ in innovation

Britt believes we are at a ‘takeoff point’ in technology innovation, where AI’s impact will be increasingly pervasive. “I think we're seeing that now with generative AI and the use of open AI models,” he says. Education and an open dialogue about the technology's benefits and limitations will be critical.

“This technology is just going to get better and better and better. I think we're seeing that now with generative AI and the use of open AI models. I think it's critical that all of us, use this technology, start to experiment with it because that way we will learn. If we have an open and public dialogue about its benefits as well as its limitations, and indeed we introduce it into our education systems so that we get our children and our kids at school beginning to see how this technology will impact their lives, then I think we'll be just more intelligent as users and as a society to make sure that this leads to human good and well being and not to detract from human flourishing.”


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