Will the workplace of the future have employees? How automation is transforming business

By Michael Smith, Group President, Commercial Banking

According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, robots will replace five million human jobs by 2020, and potentially even more thereafter.

Imagine it’s the beginning of your work day. You open your laptop and receive a notification. A shipment of new machinery is heading your way in a driverless truck. It was triggered to come by an algorithm that detected a piece of machinery in your factory had broken down. You then log online and see someone raving about the quality of your customer service on Twitter, and you smile knowing that a chatbot successfully helped this customer. Welcome to the future of business.

In the not-too-distant future, the workplace will likely be more efficient and productive as fewer people are able to accomplish more work. According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, robots will replace five million human jobs by 2020, and potentially even more thereafter. It’s estimated that existing automation technology could replace 45 percent of work currently done by people. As this transformation continues the question becomes: does the future workplace have any employees?

Here are some technologies that can radically alter the workplace:

1. Driverless Vehicles. More than 4.5 million Americans work in transportation and warehousing. Just in Illinois, nearly 500,000 workers are employed in the transportation sector. You might not plan to buy a driverless car for personal use, but businesses may buy them to reduce labor cost. In the future, trucks, cabs and more could be replaced by vehicles that work automatically, or are controlled remotely.

2. Automated Factories. The U.S. has lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since 1994, but factories have begun to return in recent years. Why? Robots have allowed modern factories to run faster, safer and at a lower cost.

3. Screens Replace Cashiers. When you’re shopping, you’re sure to see cashiers in every store and restaurant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly five million Americans work in retail and almost 200,000 retail salespersons are employed in Illinois alone. In the future, retail owners may have a new tool: a screen. Many retailers are moving to supplement their workforce with self-checkout screens that can ring you up without any human involvement, improving the checkout experience while lowering personnel costs.

4. Chatbots for Customer Service. Automated customer service can be frustrating for consumers, but human customer service employees (2.5 million of whom work in the U.S.; 120,000 in Illinois) are more expensive for businesses. The potential solution? Smart chatbots that are programmed to act and respond like human beings, capable of interacting with customers via e-commerce sites. In the future, chatbots may even have human-like voices that will allow them to interact with customers over the phone.

5. An algorithm to process your data. Data entry is a common entry-level job with 300,000 Americans working in the field and nearly 10,000 work in Illinois. In the near future, data entry will likely be made more efficient by the use of technology. Reports may be automatically generated, sent to the appropriate people and even programmed to automatically trigger changes to everything from traffic light patterns to purchasing new industrial equipment.

With all of these changes, new jobs will likely be created in fields ranging from programming to robot maintenance. Still, the disruptions automation could cause to the job market will be substantial and your business must be prepared for them. In addition to automation, other new advances are also changing how business will be done in the future. Learn more about how advanced analytics will transform manufacturing here.