Why hyperautomation will never replace the human touch

Hyperautomation is the concept of automating everything in an organisation that can be automated. But how far is too far? Louise Romeo argues we're creating problems with it by making things too complex.

I recently watched a show featuring Rob Lowe celebrating the best inventions of the 80s – from iconic machines like the Apple Macintosh, Sony Walkman and of course the Nintendo Gameboy. It made me wonder about how much simpler agency life was back in those days. And it made me think, have we made things so complex that we’ve been forced to place so much significance on business automation to solve problems of our own making?

It’s true that we’ve experienced technology evolve faster than ever in the 21st century. From quantum computing, to advances in robotics, voice-control and now even transcending reality with the metaverse. It has made us question this new era of technology, and if we’re now moving to ‘hyperautomation’, where organisations are increasingly looking to automate the end-to-end process through sophisticated AI, more efficient operations, and multiple-machine learning in an ecosystem of platforms and technologies. The issue with this is we have become so reliant on data, that we have forgotten the value our natural human instincts, intelligence and lived experiences.

In McKinsey’s A Future that Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity report, it identified five key factors influencing the pace of automation and extent of its adoption:

“The first is technical feasibility, since the technology has to be invented, integrated and adapted into solutions that automate specific activities. Second, is the cost of developing and deploying solutions, third are labour market dynamics, including the supply, demand, and costs of human labour as an alternative to automation. Fourth is economic benefits, which could include higher output, and quality, as well as labour cost savings. Finally, does it require regulatory and social acceptance.”

What we have often failed to acknowledge in the past is the ‘human touch’. What skills do our teams have, and what skills will our teams need, given that it has also been found in another McKinsey  report (Future of the Workforce, 2021) that automation can “increase worker productivity by 6-12 percent” as well as improve “employee loyalty and satisfaction, reducing their likelihood of leaving”.

So in our urgency to drive business automation, and as the landscape evolves, our customers, their behaviours, how we transact, communicate, and even structure our own organisational workflow, we need to remember one word – complementary.

It’s not about continuing to talk about the robots taking over, or reducing our workforce, it’s about investing and upskilling our teams to be part of the new workforce of the future who steer the automation journey at pace to drive value and scalability.

It’s about encouraging our people to work more intelligently with technology; using automation to free up time, energy and resource to focus on the human abilities that machines cannot deliver. Analyse their skill gaps and give them the tools to refine their ways of working which remove friction for ourselves and our business.

Lastly, remind them that humans – actually ‘we’ – are flexible, adaptive, imperfect but customisable to a point at which machines can never match.

So while I was watching Rob Lowe relive the 80s, I couldn’t help but think, agencies may have been simpler back then, but I’m excited about how we can inform, shape, and define the future of  agencies. Where machines and humans counterbalance one another, learn together and optimise to remove genuine complexity.

When I look back 10 years from now, I’ll take pride in the fact that I was part of an agency that embraced business automation as part of our digital transformation journey. And then I’ll smile at the thought that my children – whilst trading NFTs, ICOs and controlling smart devices with their minds (ok maybe that might be a stretch) – may think what we do now is truly ‘simple’, but boy wasn’t it iconic for the time.

Starcom’s national head of operations & investment, Louise Romeo.


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