Executive need to listen

COLUMN | July 20, 2022 | 4 min read

Meet your ‘machine mate’

AI can boost productivity, allowing companies to lower costs, lift profits, and provide better experiences for their employees

By Dave Wright, chief innovation officer at ServiceNow

We waste a lot of time at work: between two and four hours each day. Helpfully, researchers are now quantifying just how much time is slipping through our fingers. The biggest distractions include broken processes, technology issues, and meetings that should have been emails or a quick call.

On top of this, Aussie workers are wasting more than a day each week performing highly repetitive tasks, like data entry or searching for information. This leaves teams with far less time to tackle important work.

Coupled with skills shortages, supply chain shocks, and rising inflation, companies are preparing to navigate a rocky end to the year. Simply hiring more talent isn’t an option, not least when Australia has the second-worst skills crisis in the developed world. In the face of these headwinds, productivity gains offer leaders a path to lower costs, increased profits, and a more rewarding experience for employees.

A new report from leading AI expert Catriona Wallace offers one answer. Wallace’s report, commissioned by ServiceNow, predicts that over the next decade, new enterprise structures will emerge that combine human and digital labour. AI-powered virtual colleagues, or machine mates, will free us from repetitive and mundane tasks, providing next-step recommendations, crunching data, and sharing information between systems and teams.

While chatbots have been helping customer support teams for several years, Wallace predicts that future workforces will blend human and AI capabilities. Machine-mate contributors will be seen as colleagues, with their roles formalised in org charts. Advances are rapidly gaining pace: a recent AI-chatbot is so convincingly conversational that one of the engineers behind it felt he was having a discussion with a co-worker.


Organisations need responsible AI

Human-AI teaming is often presented as a dystopian trend taking jobs and livelihoods away from hardworking Australians. In reality, many firms are already embracing AI technologies to reduce pressure on staff, ease skills shortages, and improve work experiences by allowing teams to focus on more meaningful tasks.

Leaders can increase productivity and employee well-being by spreading work more evenly between humans and technology. Put another way: Artificial intelligence will enable us to be more human by giving people more time to focus on what they value, more freedom to choose where and how they work, and better tools for business and society to manage resources productively.

Last year, Forrester found that the jobs under near-term threat from automation tend to involve repetitive and structured tasks—bookkeepers, accountants, office clerks—as their work can more readily be delivered by automated systems.

Although the OECD estimates 1 in 10 Aussie jobs are at risk, many more will be created from the opportunities AI presents. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, automation will create 12 million more jobs than it displaces. As a result, Wallace’s research predicts that the race for employee talent will soon surpass the race for customer acquisition.

Automated processes already underpin much of our lives. They help businesses grow, improve services, and offer new ways to solve some of our most complex challenges. According to Deloitte research, workers with access to advanced technology spend an average of seven fewer hours on administration per week.

Digital transformation, including the implementation of AI tools, is no longer just a driver of growth and productivity. It can also help employees find better work-life balance, mitigate fatigue and burnout, and boost engagement.

At national office supplies retailer Officeworks, an in-store virtual assistant named Penny has reduced support requests logged by retail staff by more than 67,000 calls a year. Penny operates alongside a mobile app on the ServiceNow platform to eliminate paperwork and manual processes previously required to complete in-store tasks.

Damien Ballesty, general manager of technology at Officeworks, says Penny allows retail team members to “self-serve, fix issues themselves, get the guidance at their fingertips out in the stores, and not have to wait for the IT helpdesk.”

Ballesty says Penny has driven “huge” productivity gains. “We’ve combined our facilities, HR, and IT service desks so that people can ring in and log cases, which are now activated and actioned in a matter of days rather than weeks,” he adds. “Enhancing the experience of our team members to improve our operational excellence means being able to serve our customers better.”

The Officeworks team is on a mission to hunt out manual or clunky processes. This has helped IT help-desk employees reduce the time spent answering frequently asked questions. As a result, Ballesty says, Officeworks has been able to give new career opportunities to people who would otherwise have been answering help-desk calls all day.

Australia’s ageing population needs increasingly personalised healthcare services. As a result, New South Wales Health has focused on reducing admin time so employees can spend more time with patients.

“We needed a platform that was not only scalable, but also very configurable and flexible,” says Dr. Zoran Bolevich, NSW Health CIO and chief executive officer of eHealth NSW.

Using ServiceNow’s AI-powered service management platform, eHealth NSW integrated five contact centres, two IT service desks, and three shared services that support 3,500 daily interactions from NSW healthcare employees. Automating much of the work behind these requests saved clinicians 500,000 hours annually, so they can do less admin, and focus on caring for patients.

EHealth NSW is now focused on delivering better patient experiences. A ServiceNow-powered system named HOPE provides patients and clinicians with real-time insights, supporting shared decision-making about care, treatment, and health interventions.

Wallace’s research suggests that machine mates like Penny and HOPE will become increasingly common in Australia and around the world. While they don’t yet appear on the org charts of their respective organisations, both deliver exceptional experiences in uniquely human settings.

By 2025, it’s predicted machines will spend more time completing tasks at work than people. To solve Australia’s skills crisis we have to think differently: securing scarce talent at a higher cost isn’t sustainable. Automating manual processes is the first step in unlocking untapped potential and enabling more time for creative contribution.

Will employees lose out on their next promotion to a robot? Highly unlikely. But leading workplaces will soon be much better at recognising where our true value lies, leaving the boring bits and tedious tasks to our machine mates.


 The Secrets to Creating the Ultimate Workplace

Related articles

Working through divisions
Working through divisions

AI tools can help leaders engage employees with empathy

Upgrading the production line
Upgrading the production line

Optimized manufacturing pairs highly skilled workers with advanced technologies

How manufacturers can better digitize their supply chains
How manufacturers can better digitize their supply chains

Industry experts weigh in on solutions to an urgent global problem. Learn how supply chain digitization can help manufacturers meet logistics challenges.

People. Innovation. Connections. They can make an enterprise great.
People. Innovation. Connections. They can make an enterprise great.

What does it take to make an enterprise great? These days, it’s empowering people, innovation, and connections


Dave Wright, Chief Innovation Officer_08667

Dave Wright is the chief innovation officer at ServiceNow.