A New Approach to Automating Services

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Companies are achieving productivity gains by using software robots to perform routine, rules-based service processes. If implemented well, such automation can result in high-performing human-robot teams, in which software robots and human employees complement one another.

For more than 130 years, managers have, in effect, been trying to get humans to act like robots by structuring, routinizing, and measuring work — all under the guise of organizational efficiency.1 The automation software that is being developed today2 enables a reversal of this process. We are now able to use software robots to amplify and augment distinctive human strengths, enabling large economic gains and more satisfying work. However, given the widespread skepticism and fears about how many types of employment will fare in the future, managers are in a difficult spot. Media headlines such as the “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”3 and “A World Without Work”4 only serve to fuel the anxiety.

Although the term “robot” brings to mind visions of electromechanical machines that perform human tasks, the term as it relates to service automation refers to something less threatening: software that performs certain repetitive and dreary service tasks previously performed by humans, so that humans can focus on more unstructured and interesting tasks. Service automation includes a variety of tools and platforms that have various capabilities. While conducting research for this article, we interviewed people who used a variety of terms to discuss service automation. (See “About the Research.”) To help make sense of the landscape, we classified the tools along a service automation continuum based on the specific types of data and processes. (See “The Service Automation Landscape.”)/p>

Source From: MITSloan Management Review