The First Word: The automation reformation that is reshaping work in the age of technology

The winds of change are sweeping the landscape of work. Last year, CNN reported that there will be huge disruptions in the global job market over the next five years as companies boost adoption of technologies. The World Economic Forum 2023 – which hosts a gathering of global leaders in Davos, Switzerland annually – found that employers expect to create 69 million new jobs by 2027 and eliminate 83 million positions. This will result in a net loss of 14 million jobs, equivalent to 2% of current employment.

Process automation, fueled by advancements in low-code/no-code (LCNC) platforms and artificial intelligence (AI), particularly Generative AI (GenAI) is rapidly transforming the way we design, execute, and manage workflows. While the promise of automation – increased efficiency, reduced errors, and the potential to unlock human potential – is undeniable, its impact is multifaceted. While we recognize the immense potential this technology holds, we are also keenly aware of the critical questions it raises. Will work automation lead to widespread job displacement? How can we ensure a future where humans and technology collaborate effectively? And at the same time, while the impact of GenAI is not yet definitive, it’s clear that choosing to ignore it is not an option. The roles expected of jobs across the industry will continually transform as GenAI gets weaved into daily work tasks. Those who embrace it will undoubtedly benefit by outperforming those who don’t.

This future requires a delicate harmony and the key is to be proactive and learn how to work with the changes or digital revolution rather than resist change.

Automation cannot be seen as a singular melody or a discordant note. Instead, it is a complex symphony in an orchestra. To ensure this symphony benefits all, we must address the challenges it presents. Job displacement, a growing skills gap, and potential for increased inequality are very real concerns. However, by embracing a human-centered approach that leverages the power of LCNC platforms and GenAI, we can navigate this challenge and create a future where humans and technology collaborate for mutual success, likewise having them play in harmony as a well-conducted orchestra. Every human skill set, like every instrument in an orchestra, will contribute its unique melody to the symphony of progress.

Process automation: A double-edged sword?

Traditionally, automating business processes required significant coding expertise, limiting the reach of automation to IT departments. Today, the rise of LCNC platforms has democratized automation. These user-friendly interfaces allow individuals with minimal coding experience to build and manage automations, streamlining workflows across departments. Some argue that this democratization of automation presents a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it empowers businesses to automate a wider range of processes, leading to increased efficiency and productivity gains. Repetitive tasks like data entry, invoice processing, and expense report approvals can be automated, freeing up human capital for higher-value activities like strategic planning, customer relationship management, and creative problem-solving. At the same time, the rise of LCNC platforms also raises concerns about job displacement.

Looming shadow for coding professionals?

For a start, the emergence of LCNC platforms has cast a long shadow over the world of coding professionals. On the surface, it appears these platforms could render traditional coding skills obsolete. After all, LCNC platforms boast user-friendly interfaces that allow individuals with minimal coding experience to build basic automations. Tasks that once required a programmer’s expertise – like data entry automation, form creation, or simple approval workflows – can now be tackled by business users themselves. This has led to anxieties amongst coding professionals, particularly those who specialize in building these very automations. Will LCNC platforms become the grim reapers of the coding profession, leaving a trail of unemployed programmers in their wake?

A closer examination reveals a more nuanced picture. While LCNC platforms undoubtedly automate some tasks previously handled by coders, a complete job displacement is unlikely for several reasons. We envision coders as the conductors, leading the complex orchestra of automation that includes GenAI. Business users become instrumentalists, wielding new tools to streamline workflows. Together, we can create a future where technology empowers us, not replaces us.

LCNC platforms can streamline workflows and free up developers from repetitive tasks, but they don’t eliminate the need for complex automation altogether.  Enterprise-level integrations, custom functionalities requiring significant coding expertise, and system development projects will still necessitate the deep technical knowledge of coding professionals. Think of a construction crew building a skyscraper.  While prefabricated components may speed up certain stages, skilled engineers and architects are still essential for the overall design, structural integrity, and complex functionalities of the building.  Similarly, LCNC platforms provide pre-built elements, but coders remain crucial for the intricate architecture of large-scale automation projects.

While LCNC platforms democratize automation, they also introduce a new layer of complexity – governance.  With more individuals building automations, ensuring efficient, secure, and compliant workflows becomes paramount. This is where the expertise of coding professionals comes into play. They can develop and implement governance frameworks, troubleshoot complex integration issues, and act as a bridge between business users and LCNC platforms. This requires a shift in skillset, with a focus on leadership, communication, and strategic planning alongside their existing technical expertise. In essence, coders become the “conductors” of the automation symphony, orchestrating the various elements for optimal performance.

On the flip side of the coin, LCNC in addition to GenAI is also slowly chipping away at the “ivory tower”, allowing more people to get into the development game. The democratization of automation is a positive trend. With LCNC, companies can quickly remove roadblocks for critical business needs, and importantly, a process that is pioneered by those who understand the challenges. If we look at the statistics, only 0.26% of the world can write code, and without LCNC, we risk losing new ideas, inventions and impactful stories to tell. This explains why the discussion on the democratization of enterprise automation solutions is still thriving, as they allow for better solutions, faster adaptation to changing needs and for developers and IT to focus on strategic issues – all while business teams own their own solutioning.

The future of work is a human-centered symphony in the age of technology

The automation revolution is upon us, and its impact on the future of work is undeniable. While concerns about job displacement and a widening skills gap are legitimate, they need not define the narrative. The rise of LCNC platforms and automation presents an opportunity – a chance to reshape work in a way that benefits all. This reformation requires a human-centered approach. By focusing on reskilling and upskilling initiatives, we can equip the workforce with the skills needed to thrive in the LCNC era. By fostering human-technology collaboration, we can leverage the strengths of both humans and technological advancements and innovations to achieve new heights of efficiency and process automation.  And by ensuring equitable access to opportunities, we can create a future where everyone benefits from the gains of automation – where different work tasks are orchestrated seamlessly interwoven.

The automation revolution is upon us, but the future of work remains an unwritten score. Let’s work together to compose a symphony of progress, a melody that celebrates human potential and technological innovation, ensuring a brighter future for all.

About the authormarkus-zirn-chief-strategy-officer-workato

Markus Zirn, Chief Strategy Officer – Markus has held product and leadership positions for both start-ups and large public companies in the Big data and Integrations spaces. Prior to Workato, he led the product and solutions teams at Splunk and also headed Product Management at Oracle for integration, business processes, and business event management products.

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Chief of Staff Asia