Intelligent Automation: Creating the Workforce of The Future
September 13 | Singapore
The Bloomberg Intelligent Automation series of briefings shifted its focus to Asia, where technology decision-makers from the insurance, finance, aviation and real-estate industries convened for a roundtable lunch to discuss how new developments, particularly AI, will shape the future labor force.
Because of rapid changes taking place in the workplace post-pandemic–from a demand for flexible working arrangements to the great resignation–roundtable participants agreed that the adoption of AI, cloud computing and automation is accelerating. The goal: to harness the technology to address labor shortages, improve the productivity of employees and enhance overall operational efficiency. Also a priority: Relying on technology to better capture data that can help to measure and attain ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) targets.
The key to integrating new technology rapidly and to build internal enthusiasm? Companies must embrace flexibility and agility.
- Alex Costa, Program Director, Cloud Operations & Engineering, PROS
- Mark Jones, Head of Automation, Technology Sales, IBM Asia Pacific
- Jeffrey Lee, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer, Philip Capital Management
- Rajat Mittal, Managing Director, Digital & Technology, Mercatus Co-operative Limited
- Gerald Ng, Vice President, Environment and Sustainability, Changi Airport Group
- Dinesh Nirmal, General Manager, Data AI and Automation, IBM
- Jeanie Tan, Country Manager, Data AI and Automation, Technology Sales, IBM Singapore
- Audrey Walls, Head of Distribution, Customers & Growth, Zurich Resilience Solutions
- Michelle Jamrisko, Senior Asia Economy Reporter, Bloomberg
- Janet Wu, Anchor & Reporter, Bloomberg
- Mark Miller, Global Editor, Bloomberg Live
Dinesh Nirmal, General Manager, Data AI and Automation, IBM, led things off by saying he finds private roundtable sessions provide an opportunity to learn from some of the best technology-adopters in business. “For me, I read day in and day out on automation, but coming here and learning how customers are using different technology, and how they are managing it is really intriguing and eye-opening.”
Jeffrey Lee, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer, Philip Capital Management, added that he enjoys discussing how data can be used to optimize asset allocation. “If we are able to deploy data efficiently, and in a smart way, it will really help to advance asset management for the betterment of the client’s reserve,” Lee said.
Gerald Ng, Vice President, Environment and Sustainability, Changi Airport Group, noted that his organization has been using RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to try “automate some of our ESG indicators and metrics.” NG added that automation adoption is critical as Changi rebuilds its labor force after Covid-era layoffs. Changi is “going towards automation in full force,” while trying to induct new hires into airport systems and processes, Ng said. “Ultimately, it’s a safety and efficiency issue for the airport as well.”
Rajat Mittal, Managing Director, Digital & Technology, Mercatus Co-operative Limited, asked if Changi Airport Group intends to replace all of the workers furloughed during the pandemic, especially now that it is moving so robustly into automation. The work at Changi Airport Group is still going to be “quite labor-intensive,” Ng said. But he acknowledged that the reality for many companies, not just Changi, is that the organization is unable to find enough people to fill empty roles.
In fact, many of the participants agreed that labor shortages are their biggest challenge now.
Alex Costa, Program Director, Cloud Operations & Engineering, PROS, noted that the global labor shortage had led to an increase in workers’ pay expectations. “Today, not everyone is willing to work for the same salary level, because there are more opportunities, especially with remote work,” Costa said. Workers also appear willing to more readily change employers. One reason: “You’re not in the office anymore, and personally, I believe that people don’t build a lot of relationships, so it’s easier for them to leave to go somewhere else.”
Ng agreed that the salary expectations are on the rise, but noted that inflationary pressures create an environment in which that is a rational expectation. He also believes that “the complexity of the tasks for workers has increased,” and that expanded training time has also created an expectation of higher salaries.
Audrey Walls, Head of Distribution, Customers & Growth, Zurich Resilience Solutions added that talk of a “great resignation” and “quiet quitting” has led young professionals to expect more from their employers. “It’s not just about remuneration anymore,” she said. “People expect their company to have more ESG goals and transparency on a broad range of topics, not just about the industry they’re involved in.”
Lee said he believes employee expectations need to be reset about remote work. “There are a lot of things that you can’t pick up while working from home, like the various nuances and the way people interact.”
The key to retaining employees is about more than salary, said Costa. He noted that PROS was selected “as the best place to work in Texas for the third or fourth year in a row.” Even after introducing various incentives, such as lunch catering, to entice employees to work physically in a brand-new environment, he estimated that just 20 to 25 percent of the PROS workforce is back in the office. “As a software company, there’s a lot of work you can do remotely,” he said.
Nirmal noted as well that employees who don’t spend four hours per day commuting can increase productivity, although he acknowledged that returning to an office might improve collaboration and innovation.
Walls pointed out that companies are also realizing the costs they are saving from having reduced staff and reduced office space. “I think it works both ways in having a hybrid system, which is cutting down on travel as companies are looking to be more carbon-neutral.”
Mittal noted that most office leases are long-term and those companies with leases coming up for renewal are downsizing. He also observed that “companies are increasingly looking at being flexible and agile” with their office spaces.
The conversation turned to how IBM had helped its customers adapt to the pandemic. Mark Jones, Head of Automation, Technology Sales, IBM Asia Pacific explained that customers were in particular asking for help in giving staff, suppliers and clients “one access to content, laptop and machines,” all in a secure environment. He gave the example of providing tens of thousands of machines to one of the biggest banks in Australia, to provide it with the necessary infrastructure for business continuity, resiliency, and security–all while managing risk.
Jeanie Tan, Country Manager, Data AI and Automation, Technology Sales, IBM Singapore noted that many clients wonder how to get workforces interacting securely. “Security was one of the key components that clients would come to us for, and helping them to set up multi-cloud deployment,” Tan said.
A final topic: Did the pandemic improve automation and technology advances? And how much more can companies automate?
“I think the pandemic really showed how globally connected we are and how the system at risk is a big exposure for every business,” said Walls. She believes that companies as a result are starting to look at their process management more closely.
Costa shared that during the pandemic, PROS discovered a new business opportunity with the increase in demand for cargo transportation. “Now, the software is being used to price cargo, instead of just pricing tickets for passengers.”
Nirmal shared a story about working with a large U.S. bank and talking to its executives about AI, automation and RPA. The chief information officer, he said, reminded him that the bank was still using spreadsheets. “That’s the reality. Everybody talks AI, but at the end of the day, even with the big banks who have a massive amount of money to automate, the reality is that for something that’s running so well, there will be a lot of resistance to change.”
Mittal observed that “change management is 80 percent of the battle, not the technology.”
“When we talk about automation, it all depends on the next generation workforce that is going to be completely different from the current workforce,” Nirmal added. “What you’re doing today for automation is not going to be the same in ten or 20 years. It’s going to be completely different because the people who are going to work on these tools are going to be completely different.”
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