Intelligent Automation: Creating the Workforce of The Future
June 14 | Chicago
The Bloomberg Intelligent Automation Roadshow moved on to Chicago, where participants took a deep dive into how people and technology will interact. Corporate culture will matter as much as technology as both management and employees will need to buy into new systems and learn to trust cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Business leaders will need to overcome a fear of failure and adopt a creative — even playful — attitude toward technology. Buy-in from all levels will be necessary, and the best approach may be to let front-line workers take over the automation process. But nearly all aspects of business — even cybersecurity, where hacking threats are growing to the point where they will overcome human efforts — will need some automation. Managers and staff will need to learn to “think digitally” and make the best use of human talents in a world where artificial intelligence will be better than human intelligence in many areas.
- Mabby Amouie, Senior Director of Analytics and Chief Data Scientist, Norfolk Southern
- Gary Bertoline, Ph.D, Senior Vice President, Online and Learning Innovation, Purdue University
- Tom Bianculli, Chief Technology Officer, Zebra Technologies
- Catherine Clay, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Data and Access Solutions, CBOE Global Markets
- Elizabeth Hoegeman, Executive Director of Global Manufacturing Engineering, Cummins Inc.
- Sajal Kherde, DevOps Engineer, US Bank
- Mandy Long, Vice President Product Management, IT Automation, IBM
- Brian Miller, Senior Manager, Solutions Architecture, Deloitte
- Stacey Riley, Director, Data AI and Automation, IBM
- Tope Sadiku, Global Head of Digital Employee Experience, Kraft-Heinz Inc.
- Anurag Rana, Senior Technology Analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence
- Janet Wu, Anchor & Reporter, Bloomberg
As the roundtable participants described their businesses and the roles they play, change was a regular theme. Tom Bianculli, Chief Technology Officer, Zebra Technologies, described how his company started 50 years ago with heat printing UPC codes: “That’s where the Zebra name comes from, the black and white stripes of the bar code.” Since 2014, Zebra has expanded substantially from that humble beginning, acquiring companies and technology, from scanners to software to robotics, allowing Zebra to work with all aspects of tracking products as they go through supply chains.
Mandy Long, Vice President Product Management and IT Automation, IBM, discussed how “IBM has been going through a large transformation, truly becoming a software company.” Catherine Clay, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Data and Access Solutions, CBOE Global Markets, talked about a string of acquisitions made by CBOE, including cryptocurrency exchanges and analytics firms, and the challenges of integrating them during the global pandemic. She says she is “so very proud of our technology. We do have a lot of automation and it’s really solid.”
Gary Bertoline, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Online and Learning Innovation, Purdue University, pointed out there is one exception to the rapid adaption of automation: higher education. His goal at Purdue is “to redefine what a land-grant university means in the future,” but change is slow. “We literally turn away tens of thousands of students because we can’t scale,” Bertoline said. We have many more customers than we have seats.” He described a college experience that hasn’t changed much from the 1900s, when many American colleges were set up. “If all of you were to go to a college course right now, you probably be very comfortable because it’s hardly changed.”
The first question posed to the group was: What is the most common problem you face?
Brian Miller, Senior Manager, Solutions Architecture, Deloitte: Employees “don’t know what they don’t know.” That leads to impatience sometimes: “They don’t know that there’s a journey to get there. It’s not just buy and sell and walk away … software doesn’t do anything unless you work on it, tweak it, program it, code it.” Finally, there’s a cultural aspect; workers must be persuaded that the technology is valuable. Miller said. “Getting people to buy-in; adopting the cultural perspective on ‘why is it important to me.’”
Stacy Riley, Director, Data AI and Automation IBM, put herself in the role of a skeptical customer: “I don’t want to go to the cloud fully. I don’t trust it fully, so what do I do in the meantime? If I’m trying to transform and go into the future. I don’t know that I don’t know yet. How will AI actually be trusted?”
Her IBM Colleague Mandy Long said that from her experience, “most of the problems that we get presented with are within two categories: either performance or scale.” Asked about motivations companies have when investing in tech, Long observed that “we’ve entered a place where companies have to be in a process of continuous discovery.” Or, as she prefers to call it, “continuous humble.” She explained: “You have to be willing to be wrong constantly, and I think that is the hardest part because it’s people, it’s tech — you have to be willing to accept that the decision you make right now — six months later it’s nonviable.
Brian Miller summed up that attitude: “That’s the culture change: Fail fast, learn quicker.” Mandy Long added, “When we think about failing, it’s okay to fail, but you have to know why you’re failing.”
How do you engender trust in AI?
Sajal Kherde, DevOps Engineer, US Bank, laid out a very collaborative process: “Before implementing anything, before we start planning anything, the entire team whose application will be impacted is included in the decision-making process. We have started migrating from the top-down kind of analogy. It’s more like, ‘Iif you want AI, what do you want it to do?’ We start there and then it’s more feeding ideas in both ways … so we come at a common ground and then we give it a test and everyone feels comfortable with it.”
But it’s not an easy process, and Kherde, who studied mechanical engineering in college, highlighted an educational problem: there is often a mismatch between skills taught in colleges versus those used in workplaces; many students have been taught the wrong programming languages.
With this, the conversation turned to the need for managers and employees to be constantly open to learning new skills. But how do you upgrade your own employees’ skills?
Elizabeth Hoegeman, Executive Director of Global Manufacturing Engineering, Cummins Inc., tackled this first. “The key skills we’re really looking for are learning how to learn and learning how to identify the problem that needs to be solved. Not necessarily solve it but identify it and write a good problem statement so we know what we’re trying to fix.
Brian Miller highlighted how stark the challenge of continuous learning could be. “Information is being generated at such a pace I cannot keep up. I have to know how to find information, know how to make things work that I may not have known how to work yesterday.”
Tope Sadiku, Global Head of Digital Employee Experience, Kraft-Heinz Company, built on the theme of not being afraid to fail, going so far as to suggest encouraging a bit of playfulness internally. “The conversation is not only about technical skills. Now we talk about behavioral skills, like your intellectual curiosity … the ability to play.” Sadiku said employees should feel “comfortable failing.” Her team is open to experimentation. “In our company we can run any number of proof-of-concepts, but it feels like play, because I know it’s in an environment, it’s protected, it’s low cost, I have participants who are keen and eager to take part” because they have “psychological security and trust.”
The question next: “How do you upscale yourself?”
Tom Bianculli started by talking about how intellectual curiosity can make a person stretch his or her skills. “So many of the things that we are talking about are connected together. Intellectual curiosity is huge. You become curious about what outcomes you can achieve that you couldn’t achieve before.” He walked through one possible scenario: “You start saying ‘okay, in order to get to some of those outcomes, I’ve got to, for example, unite siloed data in my organization. I’ve got all this data trapped in silos. I’ve got to pull that together, extract the insights that I need.’” And all of this leads to learning about the different silos and how to synthesize information from each of them. Bianculli then talked about the effort involved in upgrades. For retail clients, this can take up to four years. Overseeing programming is a form of active learning, as programmers and managers learn from each other. “It’s that curiosity and the cascading effects — that’s a huge difference the last couple of decades,” Bianculli shared.
Mabby Amouie, Senior Director of Analytics and Chief Data Scientist, Norfolk Southern, talked about his company and his experiences. “We are a transportation company but that’s not what we view ourselves as. We think that we are a digital company that runs trains … It was a complete paradigm shift to take ourselves out of what we had been doing for many years and what we took comfort in … and say ‘no, we want to completely look at this company in a different way, we want to think about us as a digital company.’” As a result, Norfolk Southern partners with cutting-edge companies like Tesla and Facebook, because “we realize that if our benchmark is other railroads or logistic companies, we are probably 20 years, 30 years behind what Silicon Valley is doing.”
The panel then tackled the emerging technologies of blockchain and digital assets. Are their companies looking into this technology?
Anurag Rana, Senior Technology Analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence, is a strong supporter of blockchain: II think almost everything in the world should be on blockchain … It is probably one of the most remarkable technologies out there.” But he was more doubtful about cryptocurrency, arguing that “there is no economic value to Bitcoin.”
This led to a bit of a back and forth with the Chicago Board of Exchange’s Catherine Clay, who sees a linkage between electronic currencies and another emerging force: “You know who’s going to disrupt us if anybody? It’s decentralized finance.” Clay underscored the importance of “Defi” and the use of blockchains and made the case that both of those will facilitate the use of cryptocurrency. Anurag Rana countered that most of his assets are tracked electronically even while they are denominated in dollars. He concluded: that “a currency has to be backed with something productive.”
The last major topic the panel talked about was the “Great Resignation,” which has seen workers more willing to leave employers and even exit the workforce. There was also the question of online security. This led to two seemingly unrelated questions: “How is automation making your workforce happier? and “How do you deal with escalating security problems?”
Deloitte’s Brian Miller managed to bring the two together, calling attention to the difficulty of recruiting and retaining security officers: the work can be unbearably tedious. Recruiters can go to college campuses and tell students, “You can make this much money.” Then Miller gave the typical student’s response: “Yeah, but I don’t want to sit there and stare at a screen all day. That’s boring.”
Mandy Long touted Amazon’s “hands off the wheel” model, calling it “one of the greatest examples to date of democratizing tooling to automate, giving to the employees.” She describes Amazon’s approach: “They basically started handing tooling to the front lines throughout their entire supply chain saying ‘you guys know what to automate. Do it’” As a result, “the vast majority of their processes are automated, and they only use people where it’s needed.”
And the issue of security resonated with the entire panel. Anurag Rana summed up the situation. The growth of security threats is “mindboggling,” but “the only way to fix this problem is through automation. There’s no other way. The math is so against you if you try to hire people and do it from a manpower point of view. It’s not going to work.” Rana observed that security is a considerable expense. Microsoft, he said, spends more than $1.5 billion on security and has acquired at least 15 security companies. He pointed out that malware is available on the dark web for a few hundred dollars. And law-enforcement is little help after am attack. If you are hacked and held ransom, he said, the FBI generally advises that companies pay it, because the expense of recovery will be greater than the ransom.
Purdue University’s Gary Bertoline tied the security to the even larger difficulty created by technological advances. Some of the problems stem from failures of the educational system: “We’re trying to solve a digital problem with analog thinking. Why would you click on something that someone sent you? It’s because you’re thinking analog and you’re trusting in everything, and the world has fundamentally changed. We’re not doing this at the educational system…we need to teach new foundations of digital technology.
Bertoline then summed up with what might be the main challenge that advances in technology pose for all workers: “We now have machines that are smarter than humans in many, many areas, so we have to separate out what we are better at, which is creativity and the human element, and those are the things we should be focusing on.”
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