Cutting back to give back
A useful, recent example has come from Coca-Cola European Partners when, in 2017, the business vowed to give a collective one million hours annually back to its staff. To do this, the business closely analysed the relationship between humans and machines to remove annoyances and increase efficiencies.
This meant, among other things, mapping the daily journeys of staff to figure out how and where their time was being wasted – reading emails that were unnecessarily CCed to them, for instance, or attending meetings they needn’t have been invited to, or conducting repetitive tasks that could be automated.
Once these time thieves were identified, the business acted to remove them and give that time back. So far, CCEP says, the business is halfway to its goal of one million hours saved among its 23,500 staff.
Machine learning frees up human talent
Another case study is that of the Australian Government agency known as the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
A major funding body for health and medical research, the NHMRC’s work was becoming more complex as researchers who were seeking funding worked on increasingly specific studies. The job of matching thousands of applications annually to knowledgeable members of peer-review panels was extremely time consuming and laborious.
A machine-learning application was developed. It reduced a job that previously took 20 people 500 collective hours to one that takes just a few seconds plus five or six hours of quality assurance by a human.
Best of all, these solutions from Coca-Cola and NHMRC resulted in no job losses. Instead, staff were freed up to do work involving empathy, ingenuity, deep or creative thinking and the development of innovative ideas – all uniquely human traits that machines will never accomplish.
For a competitive and sustainable future, organisations large and small have to adopt the best of technology whilst carefully navigating its perils. It’s a delicate balancing act, but businesses are proving it is one that can, and must, be achieved.
James Chalmers is a contributor