man using mobile ordering kiosk at mcdonald's

Fast-food giant McDonald’s is losing some frontline workers who have become frustrated with the complexities around its mobile-app orders, self-order kiosks and new menu items. (Sorbis/Shutterstock)

Innovation | Trends

AI and automation: The new unstoppable reality

Automation will disrupt 50 per cent of Canadian jobs in the next 10 years, research finds. How should businesses adapt?

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Automation is both a friend and a foe of the workplace. New technologies can improve efficiency and customer experiences—but they are also making some jobs and skills obsolete. In some positions that remain, technology is also making the work more complicated and stressful.

Automation is the new, unstoppable reality across most sectors. Recent RBC research shows automation will disrupt 50 per cent of Canadian jobs in the next 10 years. “We are living through an era of radical change, with the latest advancements in artificial intelligence and automation transforming the way we work, even in unexpected fields such as law and customer service,” the report, Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption, says. It also states that human skills—such as critical thinking, social perceptiveness and complex problem solving—are required for people and companies to “remain competitive and resilient in the labour market.”

Quickly adapting to technology is critical for most employees, regardless of what they do. A recent Bloomberg article points to fast-food giant McDonald’s, which is losing some frontline workers who have become frustrated with the complexities around its mobile-app orders, self-order kiosks and new menu items. The risk for McDonald’s isn’t just staff turnover but also longer wait times for customers—the opposite experience the company is trying to create.

“The choice we have to make around automation is, in what sectors does it play a role and in what sectors is it actually better to have a human interaction?” says Rekha Karambayya, associate professor of organization studies at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Karambayya says McDonald’s and other companies struggling with the human impact of automation may need to spend more time to train workers, and perhaps pay them more, too. “Is it actually a minimum wage job now, or is it something else?” she asks.

Companies increasing automation need to empathize with how employees are handling the transition, says Doug Stephens, a retail consultant and founder of Retail Prophet. If that transition makes employees anxious or resentful, it can create a poor customer experience, which in turn can hurt the business longer-term. “Conversely, when you go into an organization and have a tremendous customer experience, very often, it’s because the employees are well treated and feel secure and stable in their work,” he says.

Businesses also need to be sensitive to how quickly consumers can and are willing to adapt to automation. “Not all consumers have a great regard for many of these technologies, either,” Stephens says, citing self-serve checkouts at some retailers as an example. “Does it make their life easier, or is the retailer trying to put the effort and cost over to them?” he says. “Companies need to be careful how to position technology to consumers as well.”

For more

CPA Canada will be releasing a primer on artificial intelligence this summer as well as a publication examining the impact AI may have on the profession. The 2018 National Forum on Technology Solutions—set for May 28-29 in Toronto—will also focus on how current and emerging resources, tools and trends across the tech landscape (including AI) will impact business.