In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the delicate balance between automation and human connection is crucial for businesses to succeed. Here, we share valuable insight on how to navigate this paradigm and offers advice for CIOs seeking to harness the power of both — including cultivating meaningful connections, ethical considerations in tech automations, and leveraging the tool for enhanced efficiency and innovation.
I can buy nearly anything I want, any time I want, without having significant human-to-human contact. Yet making purchases in isolation and (what feels like) anonymity isn’t necessarily my goal. Convenience is. However, I feel better about the experience when I know that at any step in the process, I could touch base with a real person.
My point is that, like so many other consumers, I value automation. I value efficiency. I value effortlessness. But I don’t value feeling like I’m completely on my own. I want a safety net, and that safety net is being tethered to other humans in some capacity — even if I never need them.
As a CIO, you’re no doubt mired in automation initiatives. According to a Gartner study, 60% of businesses have no fewer than four automation projects in various stages of development at any given time. While this is certainly a good and wise practice given the modern tech-forward landscape, you can’t ignore the human for the machine. Yes, it’s logical to automate, as long as you don’t allow automation to become an impenetrable shell between your people and your B2C customers or B2B client base.
Achieving this delicate balance is admittedly challenging. Automation is attractive and, when applied properly, cost-effective. It’s rewarding to trim extra fat from your budget and contribute to your company’s profit margins. Nevertheless, it’s not good practice to look the other way on bringing humans back into the mix at a post-pandemic time when people are clamoring for authentic connections with brands.
Your job, then, is clear: Walk the tightrope between 100% automation and 100% human interaction. The following strategies will help you navigate this narrow space more effectively and with less risk and more reward.
- Keep human-driven meaningful connections.
As you explore opportunities to automate, always think about places where you can keep human-driven meaning in touchpoints. That is, don’t automate everything just because you can. Consider areas where humans would foster more genuine connections than technological systems, software, or workflows could. Even if you could streamline those areas, you probably shouldn’t for the sake of human stakeholder morale.
Dave Marshall is the president and founder of Mongoose, a leading conversational software company that was founded by a team of education technology professionals who recognized the need for a more engaging and efficient way to communicate with students in higher education. He suggests beginning all tech automation journeys with a single question: “Why are we automating?”
Marshall explains that technology should be freeing space for humans to have transformative experiences with each other, not shutting down chances for them to interact. “We don’t see technology as able to stand on its own; we see it as a component of a multi-faceted approach to human connection,” says Marshall. “We make all of our business decisions, down to software feature and function plans, with these three outcomes in mind: empowering data-driven decision-making, breaking down silos, and amplifying impact.”
In a nutshell, ensure that your automations elevate your brand’s humanity. If you have some in place that don’t, make changes before they stall your company’s progress.
- Navigate ethical concerns responsibly when exploring automation.
Though I’ve spoken quite a bit about buyers, I should add that employees are another human component to think about when automating. Employees often feel concerned, frustrated, and even stressed when companies bring too much automation into their worlds. Many worry that their jobs will be lost — and for good reason. According toLeftronic research, around 1.7 million workers have been displaced by automation in since 2000. That’s not an insignificant finding.
The ethics surrounding all aspects of automation, including the use of AI, should be of primary concern whenever you and your team explore automation possibilities. In addition to reducing the need for certain positions, automation can lead to data-privacy issues if there’s little to no oversight folded into the process. And data breaches can tarnish the human face your organization presents to the world because they harm the humans who’ve put trust in your brand.Again, asking the right questions matters: Are there ethics-focused concerns around this type of automation? Is this automation ethical? How can we avoid ethical violations if we decide to “go with” this automation? It’s never too soon to include ethics in your automation conversations.
- Test and measure your automations using human-specific metrics.
It’s possible now to test all your automation approaches on a number of fronts, including those that are human-centered. By examining how automations are affecting human stakeholders, you can better determine if the automations are worth keeping.
The important thing to keep in mind is that automations can be innovative and efficient but still be a poor solution because they’re not making life better or easier for people. For example, you might want to measure whether or not an automation is truly allowing your team members to concentrate on high-value tasks. If the automation isn’t giving you real-world benefits and alleviating human stressors, it needs to be reevaluated.
What if the problem seems to be a disconnect between your automation and the people who could gain an advantage from it? Margarita Simonova, the founder of ILoveMyQA, recommends training. As Simonova says in a Forbes piece: “Companies can focus on upskilling and reskilling their workforce by providing training and development programs to help employees adapt and transition into new roles that complement automation. This approach enhances overall productivity while fostering employee growth and job satisfaction.”
Automation isn’t the big bad wolf. It’s not your business’s salvation, either. It’s just a tool. And as a tool, its most essential role should be to help and support humans instead of usurping them.
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