by Jennifer O'Brien

Exclusive: Tech startup exec reveals why AI and robotics aren’t always coming to get your jobs

Feb 15, 2018
Artificial IntelligenceDigital TransformationInnovation

CIOs increasingly need to predict the future impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics on a company’s workforce and are looking to non-traditional sources, including tech startups leveraging predictive analytics, to answer the call.

One startup hoping to shake up the industry and provide some answers is Faethm, a tech platform hatched in October 2017 by a team of eight in Australia.

Executive director Greg Miller, who’s the former vice-president and managing director of global partner operations for SAP A/NZ, told CIO Australia the platform aims to help companies and governments navigate and prosper from the automation of work by AI, robotics and advanced materials. But it also gives companies practical ‘transitional’ information on how to best prepare for the technological disruption.

To date, Miller said the predictive analytics message is resonating with the c-level executive – with the CIO/heads of transformation – as well as with the HR executive, who gets involved to weigh in on business outcomes. “It is typically a tag team between the head of transformation and HR because there are extensive ramifications and impact across the business and its people.”

Already, he said the company has signed Bluescope Steel, along with an ASX50 Australasian bank, a ASX50 insurance provider, a federal government agency, a national health provider, a global strategic management consultancy, and a global foods manufacture.

“Customers are typically sitting there worried about this issue. They’ve been told to deal with this issue and they have no idea how to go about it. There’s not the tools and means to answer these questions, and because we’re talking about the future, it’s quite difficult to find the right data sources and do that proper data analysis.”

Birth of the platform

Miller, who’s also heavily involved in STEM initiatives and has a keen interest in social issues and the future of work, said the rollout of this latest tech venture aligns to his social impact goals. Over the past year, Miller’s research saw him investigate the ‘human ramifications’ of a range of emerging technologies – including AI and robotics.

Miller was then introduced to Michael Priddis, former BCG partner and founder of Faethm. He discovered there’s a need to develop a software solution that can predict the overall impact on workers and workplaces.

“As we started looking at potentially joining forces on some research topics we realised that actually there’s a software solution somewhere and so we went about building that – and that’s what we’ve taken to market. It is focusing squarely on this work and industrial revolution issue – the future of work.

“Unfortunately, it is mostly construed as a negative with people worrying robots are going to take our jobs,” he said, which is not always a true picture of reality and needs proper assessment.

Instead, he said these emerging technologies will not only automate some jobs, but also augment others and create many new roles. “Our philosophy is you can’t just be looking at automation of the workforce. You have to be looking at a three-pronged strategy: automation, augmentation and addition.”

Indeed, there’s immense demand for this type of data, he added. “People want to know, ‘what is going to happen when different types of artificial intelligence and robotics take real mainstream footing in industries? What will happen to work? What will happen to jobs and peoples’ employment capabilities?

“We’ve set out to build a platform, a technology solution that gives business leaders and policy-makers alike a tool they can scenario-plan with, and make decisions with as they maneuver their workforce through this issue.

“To be honest, up until now and still to this day, the only way to answer that question was probably to bring in high-priced global management consultancy and try to get a one-time answer of what the future skills of your organisation look like.

But the tech platform plans to change all of that, he added. “We’ve come in and are disintermediating a bit of that, saying ‘we’ve got the algorithms built in the platform. Once I know your workforce, then I can show you which emerging technologies are going to have the biggest impact on your workforce. Now the flipside of that coin is, ‘do you have the right emerging technologies on your roadmap?'”

Transformation agenda

Miller said Bluescope Steel was one of its first beta clients and put itself under the microscope.

“They took their existing transformation agenda and held that up against what our data said in order to revisit prioritisations across their transformation agenda based on the data that came out of our platform. So it’s great to see that in action.”

He said companies in the corporate arena need to ask a certain set of questions, while at the same time perform technology mapping and determine the workforce implications once implemented.

“Companies are asking, ‘Do I have the right priorities in my digital transformation? Do I have the right technologies in that whether it be social AI or process AI or fixed robotics or mobile robotics, am I looking at the right thing? How do I prioritise that and put value on that?”

Additionally, he said the platform provides prediction planning (out to 15 years) in order to determine skills at risk from automation across the entire organisation, including business units, geographies and individual roles.

“If you find a role that is really high risk, let’s say a machinist which has an 88 per cent likelihood of being automated in the next 10 to 15 years, once I know that, the key is, how do I take action. So putting that individual on a ‘transition and re-skilling’ pathway to uplift their skill sets so they are not likely to be automated in the future – and move them towards a role that is less likely to be automated.”

He said the platform enables a ‘‘job neighbourhood’ feature, which clusters similar roles across an organisation and identifies skill gaps between high and low risk roles and analyses transition options.

It then presents job corridors for employees to move through to future proof their skill sets, thereby reducing the human costs of automation and increasing productivity, Miller explained.

“This topic of reskilling is the biggest discussion we are having at the moment, particularly with government.”

On the banking front, he said the organisations are eager to deploy this type of predictive analytics technology.

‘It is an industry that is spending more on automation than many. So it is out there in the forefront.”

Overall, he said there’s real momentum on the part of the majority of companies to be more socially aware and cognizant of the growing impact automation on the future of work.

“Most companies are quite concerned with the people impact and the impact on the communities that they operate in. And they have started to take some ownership for that.”