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Making the jump to hyperdrive

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You’ve probably heard about hypertext, hypercubes, hyperloops, hypermarkets, or—heaven forbid—hyperinflation. Let’s take a look at one of the more exciting trends in the realm of all things hyper. Welcome to the wild, wonderful world of … hyperautomation.

First, let’s be clear about what hyperautomation is not. Even though the customer or end user might want everything before yesterday and without having to ask for it, hyperautomation does not equal hyperspeed. The old saying, “Fast, good, cheap—pick two” still stands.

It’s also not, as some might have you believe, about taking everything you do and digitizing it. If you think your organization is fraught with inefficiency now, just wait. With digitization, by converting mountains of paperwork (forms, receipts, reports, etc.) into electronic format, you can be inefficient at the speed of light!

As Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, put it, “Everything that can and should be automated will be automated.” The key word is “should.” Before we automate something, we need to first step back and see if there’s a better way of doing it. Or, better yet, see if it’s worth doing at all.

In their book Intelligent Automation, the authors Pascal Bornet, Ian Barkin, and Jochen Wirtz state that the goal of hyperautomation is “to achieve a business outcome, through a redesigned automated process, with no or minimal human intervention.” They see the creation of a software-based digital workforce working hand-in-hand with a human workforce. This is very important—we’re not talking about replacing the human workforce. Rather, we’re talking about augmenting it and, as a result, transforming it. That’s a huge difference.

The new, all-digital workforce will be made from a combination of AI, machine learning, computer vision, natural language  understanding, robotics, and more. It’s all part of a natural cycle we’ve seen before with farm workers, factory workers, and, now, information and knowledge workers.

Preparing for launch

Before you start panicking, recall a frequent theme of this column: Every disruption is an opportunity for KM. Hyperautomation is no exception. Here are a two simple steps to help make the transformation as smooth as possible for you and your team:

Step 1. Take an inventory of your KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities). What special gifts and talents do you have that truly make you unique and valuable?

Step 2. Go through your list and, with brutal honesty, label each item as a) easily automated, b) a strong candidate for automation in the next 3–5 years, or c) likely to remain human-only for the foreseeable future.

Are any of your specialties facing automation within the next 5 years (categories a) and b) in Step 2)? If so, put on your KM hat and get to work. You have a key role to play in the design, development, test, and validation of the software that will ultimately end up replacing you. You will, in effect, be helping to build the bridge to the next level of intelligent automation.

However, the real pot of gold at the end of the rainbow consists of those KSAs in the third category—those that are not likely to be automated anytime soon. Until now, you’ve been wasting too much time doing unproductive, repetitive work. And you probably haven’t stopped to look ahead and think about what, if anything, will be left for you to do as we move into what’s being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

According to Deloitte, we’re already at the 50% mark in terms of adoption of hyperautomation, with near-universal adoption coming in the next 5 years. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to start thinking about how you can match those human-only KSAs (both yours and those of your associates) with where they’re needed the most. And if you find that you’re coming up short, get into learning mode and update your skill set accordingly.

Keep in mind that crunching numbers for everything from statistical trend analysis to plotting orbital trajectories to beating grand masters in games such as chess and Go are a few of the many tasks where computers reign supreme. But no matter how great the processing speed and memory capacity machines might eventually possess, there will always be roles and responsibilities that can only be filled by humans. These include leading, influencing (with passion), engaging, governing, and rendering sound judgment. All require the uniquely human capacity to take myriad tangible and intangible factors into account. This especially includes the ability to see the big picture based on a deep understanding of how the world works, along with the many quirks and nuances of human nature and society as a whole.

As a conductor rehearses and leads an orchestra through the many movements of a symphony, humans need to be out in front, composing, arranging, and conducting the many digital pieces as an integrated whole.

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