Augmented human intelligence: Using AI to streamline business process

CIOs are under tremendous pressure to use AI technologies. A recent survey shows why focusing on augmented human intelligence may yield the best business results.

AI and related technologies are most effective when used as a way to unleash creativity and increase autonomy in workers.

That's according to The Augmented Human Enterprise, a survey of 400 "senior decision-makers" at large enterprises across the U.K., United States, Japan and India in three industry sectors: manufacturing, insurance, and banking and finance. The study was done by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, and commissioned by robotic process automation vendor Automation Anywhere.

Released in September, the study looked at the role and impact of automation in the workplace, focusing on two "augmentation" technologies:

  • AI, defined as a "machine that can learn from its experiences and use what it's learned to become more efficient."
  • Robotic process automation, or RPA, defined as technology that captures "employee inputs in rules-based processes and then uses the software to automate those inputs."

Among the findings: Not only do enterprises that invest in augmented human intelligence promote a "more human workplace," but workplaces with cultures that foster learning also do technology augmentation more successfully.

"The key [to success] was to invest in technology and people," said Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere.

"Technology investment is straightforward," he added. "The human investment [describes] organizations that had a 'growth mindset ' -- they offered growth opportunities, empowered employees to take charge of their own departments and to lead them with the new technology."

Indeed, augmented enterprises were 37% more likely to prioritize employee learning and development than nonaugmented enterprises, according to the study.

The human investment

On the measure of enterprise performance, the study considered factors such as the pursuit of business goals, continuous innovation, and being culturally and value-based. Overall, the level of performance for augmented organizations was 28% higher than that of nonaugmented competitors.

So how are augmented enterprises more "human-focused" and productive than their nonaugmented peers? The research found four workplace areas that those companies identifying themselves as "successful" at AI implementation also excelled in:

  1. Learning: Workplaces with an open culture that fosters learning -- both structured and unstructured -- are also more likely to augment and to do it successfully, the research stated.
  2. Mindset: The research found a positive correlation between organizations that fostered a "growth mindset" among employees and the ability to maximize benefits from AI- and RPA-based augmentation.
  3. Engagement: Employees in augmented enterprises were found to be 38% more engaged than those in nonaugmented competitors.
  4. Ethics: Augmented enterprises were 31% more likely to prioritize high ethical standards in their business and their interactions with employees.

Where to start

The first step in implementing AI technology is to identify where it's needed, Goldsmiths, University of London, researchers said. Find a niche part of a business process that is not at peak performance, and improve it using augmented intelligence technologies, such as AI and RPA.

Gartner analyst Whit Andrews agreed that businesses interested in using augmentation technologies should begin by looking specifically for a place where workers are aware of their shortcomings or are bored by the work -- and frame AI as a solution that can help create augmented human intelligence.

Artificial intelligence is the latest generation of human's discovery of how to apply digital technologies to do the things that humans are the least good at.
Whit Andrewsanalyst, Gartner

"Artificial intelligence is the latest generation of human's discovery of how to apply digital technologies to do the things that humans are the least good at," Andrews added.

The Augmented Human Enterprise survey found that using augmented human intelligence processes did not alienate staff -- in fact, 70% of respondents reported that AI improved employee job satisfaction.

Transparency is important when implementing augmentation technologies, Andrews said. It's vital that staff see AI at work, and that bosses are open about its usefulness and potential failures during implementation.

"If AI is an incomplete success, you want everyone to say 'It's so great you tried to do that' and because you were a total of half successful, we now know things we didn't know about that," Andrews added.

Three calls to action

Reflecting on the survey, the project team ended with three recommendations for companies beginning the process of augmentation successfully:

  1. Codify your company's ethics

Answer the question "what ethical principles guide this company's actions?" Write in plain language that everyone in your company will understand, and introduce the principles across the enterprise. The Goldsmiths analysts note that this document is a tool for creating an open culture built on an ethical and behavioral consensus.

  1. Audit key workstreams

Conduct audits, workflows and plan out the day-to-day business processes and catalog them. Documenting these processes allows you to identify areas for improvement -- and eventual augmentation.

  1. Choose areas for augmentation

Researchers recommend choosing an area where employees are performing repetitive tasks -- and where the inputs and outputs follow predictable patterns. Create a list of areas that can be automated by AI or RPA that reflect the company's ethics and enhance the routines of employees.

Choosing an area for augmentation doesn't mean instant implementation, researchers stressed. Implementing augmented human intelligence will require working with technology vendors, partners, employees and experts to implement augmentation that enhances business processes.

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