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One of the latest buzzwords in corporate circles is the term “digital transformation,” which means the process of using new intelligent automated systems in between the process input and output reducing the time from start to finish. Microsoft Australia recently took a survey of employees in health, retail, financial services, and manufacturing, to determine their reaction to automated systems in the workplace.

Study on AI and Technology in the Workplace

With 1,400 respondents, the study showed that the employees do not feel threatened by the use of robots and artificial intelligence (AI). The survey also showed that workers want to have more involvement in the transformation process – a bold move that the company could act on in the years to come. Conducted in September, there was limited evidence in the study that employees feel that robots or machines will be replacing them in their jobs. This is regardless of the nature of jobs, as the study included first-line workers (those in customer-facing positions), in production roles like nurses, retail assistants, and manufacturing production line workers.

At the same time, 66% believed that digital transformation would make for more flexible processes. More than three-fourths (77%) of all employees, both first-line and management employees, thought that digital transformation was necessary for every organization.

Ian Heard, Microsoft Australia’s Digital Workplace and Collaboration Manager, says that most workers have already adapted to the digital process with the use of smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices. With their experience in the use of these devices, the workers already understand that AI and automated systems are necessary to transform the workplace to be more efficient, resulting in a more competitive business.

First Line Workers Respond

First-line workers were optimistic at the opportunity to work side-by-side with automated systems and technology.  Up to 85% of first-line healthcare workers believe that a streamlined process due to automation can free up their time doing administrative or clerical work, allowing them to take more time with patients. Heard said that this “is not a case of scaling down the workforce – it’s more a case of elevating the workforce to more customer-relevant.”

Heard explained that automated systems would be able to replace rote work, and that this will free up workers to do more tasks which require human interaction and knowledge-based expertise. In retail, AI and technology can transform the jobs of workers allowing them to provide shoppers with a better shopping experience.

Graphic of Attitudes to Robots - Most Workers don't fear robots

Digital Transformation Imperatives

The job transformation may be significant. In some organizations, the person now currently collecting data might have his or her job changed to analyzing the collected data. The survey showed that about two-thirds (67%) of the respondents believe that the use of automation and AI was necessary for the successful transformation of the workforce.

At the same time, 66% believed that digital transformation would make for more flexible processes. More than three-fourths (77%) of all employees, both first-line and management employees, thought that digital transformation was necessary for every organization. When asked about the company’s top strategic goal, respondents placed transforming customer experience as the top priority (22%), while profitability and meeting revenue growth targets ranked second (18%), followed by digital transformation (10%).

Setting Priorities

Digital transformation was thought of as important, but what was more important was participation. Principally, first-line workers felt that they are not included in the process of transforming the company. Only 21% admitted to being involved in their company’s digital transformation initiatives, and there was 33% who were not involved but wanted to be included.

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