What is Workforce Automation?

The continuing automation of different occupations, which is arguably accelerating.


What it is: Workforce Automation is the phenomenon of human work being replaced by automatic mechanisms. Such mechanisms range from physical assets to algorithms. Though Workforce Automation has, in some sense, been going on since the plough replaced laborers with shovels, it’s arguably accelerating with the inception of machine learning and weak AI, with their ability to emulate cognitive tasks.

What it does: Workforce Automation, when successful, replaces human work with more efficient non-human mechanisms. It can increase productivity in various ways, such as increased output and reliability, the reduced need for costly procedures like hiring and firing, and so on. From a historical perspective, it’s one of the major factors in the world’s uptick in prosperity since the Industrial Revolution.

Why it matters: Workforce Automation can have large impacts on a wide range of enterprises. It can entail huge boosts in productivity, and, by extension, the first firms to successfully automate a given process can gain a huge advantage. It also has societal effects: the decline in manufacturing jobs, for example, fueled by automation, has increased manufacturing output. However, employment numbers remain steady as Workforce Automation proceeds, suggesting that new jobs are being created reliably as automation phases some jobs out, at least for now.

What to do about it: Examine whether Workforce Automation could serve your enterprise, by seeing whether a given process could benefit from increased automation through leading-edge technologies such as ML. Keep in mind that the upfront costs of automation can be high. It’s not necessarily trivial, for example, to even completely assess what one employee does in the course of their normal duties, and without this understanding, attempts at automation can fail. Keep an eye on automation in your sector to keep ahead of future disruptions.

Business Advantages

  • Increases productivity and reliability by replacing human workers with automatic processes
  • Cuts down on complexities of staffing, such as hiring, firing, and HR in general
  • Frees up high-skilled workers from performing menial tasks

Examples of Tasks Currently Being Automated

  • Some media pundits predict that the work of Middle Managers will soon be replaced, such as quality control, talent allocation, and work scheduling.
  • Increasingly advanced speech and text recognition could replace transcription and data entry tasks.
  • A free legal chatbot, DoNotPay, has contested millions of dollars of parking tickets in the UK, suggesting that some legal functions could be replaced with AI assistants.

Which Jobs Will Be Automated?

This is not easy to predict based on superficial assessments. For example, many have speculated that truck drivers will be replaced by self-driving vehicles, but automation firm owner Dan Hanson has pointed out that truckers’ jobs are actually tremendously complicated, to the point where automation may not make sense. Meanwhile, some occupations that might be thought of as more creative and less “machine-like” could be automated more quickly. For example, a firm called Persado is partnering with large enterprises to automate the creation of marketing copy.

Automating Activities vs. Occupations

One distinction that must be observed is that between automating activities and occupations. Most jobs are composed of large clusters of activities, some of which may be much harder to automate than others, meaning that the job will persist in some form, even if some of its functions are replaced by automation. It’s estimated that, while 50% of human labor activities across all sectors could be automated by currently proven technologies, only 5% of occupations could.