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Designing the AI Augmented Workforce of the Future

What will your workforce look like in future? I am betting that regardless of what industry you operate within, or the type of workforce you employ, in the not too distant fuure it is going to be heavily augmented by Artificial Intelligence and cognitive computing. I am also willing to bet that this AI Augmentation will occur across your entire supply chain from design to sales. In some cases this AI Augmentation will be in the form of a robot, while in others it will be in the form of a software program or a mobile app. But however the technology is deployed it is certain to be a profit boon to the companies that are early adopters.

While it has always been true that technology has “augmented” workers tasks this next phase, AI Augmentation, is different in that the augmentation will move beyond what can best be called a “master/servant” role and quickly evolve into one of “partnership”. For example, 30 years ago accounting software augmented the workforce in finance departments in companies around the world and made them exponentially more efficient. But the technology was there waiting to be “told” what to do. It was a servant. With AI Augmentation (i.e. cognitive computing) the technology will act as a “partner”. It will think, and offer suggestions, and learn just like its human counterparts.

Technology in the space is accelerating and I predict most business leaders will be surprised by how quickly it will impact their industry. Because of this I think that now is the time to start planning for the AI Augmented workforce of the future.

The first step is to figure out where cognitive computing, at this stage, can be deployed as an effective augmentation tool and to start planning for it will be in 5 years. The second step is to determine what this augmentation will look like on the ground. In other words, if you are going to deploy robots across your hotel chain then what tasks will they be expected to perform and what tasks will your human employees perform. Chances are this will change the employee profile that you need for each position as well as your training needs.

I worry that most businesses will see AI Augmentation as a zero sum game: one robot replaces one human. Of course there is space in every market for low cost/low touch businesses. But I believe, and what I find to be tremendously exciting, is that with highly scalable AI Augmentation there is a very real opportunity for companies to re-design and re-think your entire model to not only realize the savings that AI Augmentation will offer but to also greatly enhance the customer experience.

For instance, if you have a hotel and replace all of your human workers with robots you will save money but at the same time you will greatly degrade your customer experience.

A decade ago I road my bike across Europe and would frequently stay in a hotel chain (I cannot remember the name right now) that had no workers. You would put your credit card into a machine, a room would be assigned and a key card would slide out and that is how you got into the hotel and into the room. There was no front desk, no bell hop, no room service and no concierge. It was completely automated (except the cleaning crew I assume) and completely sterile. But it was cheap and filled a great niche – i.e. people riding their bikes across Europe! Now of course, robots will allow hotel chains like that to offer bell hop and room services while still remaining completely “automated”.

Many other hotels are on the other end of the spectrum. They seek to build a personal relationship, and therefore brand loyalty, with their customers. So their challenge is to define what tasks robots can do well (i.e. check-in, check-out, bell hop service, room service, etc.) and focus them on those tasks and then hire to and train your remaining employees to become uber concierges where they use their emotional intelligence and ability to communicate with and attend to every need of the customer and build a stronger customer relationship? This model will significantly cut your operating costs but will not degrade your customer experience. In fact, if done right it will actually increase the experience of your customers. Of course there is space in the market for both types of models. But the point here is that both need to be completely re-designed.

The challenges facing the hospitality industry are of the same type that are beginning to face every industry. Do you have a task force thinking about this?

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