Can automation make work more human?

The Augmented Human Enterprise - a major academic study into the performance dynamics of people and automation technology in the workplace

make work human

The future impact of automation and AI on businesses and the people working within them is under constant debate. Advocates hail a future utopia, detractors foresee our dystopian demise. But what's the reality today? A team of academics at Goldsmiths, University of London, supported by Automation Anywhere, set out to investigate the real-life impact of automation on work, and found that augmented workplaces score 33% higher on factors deemed to make a workplace more human.

The results were surprising…

About this project

An independent academic research team spent three months researching the reality and future of workplace augmentation with automation and AI technology – welcome to The Augmented Human Enterprise

Every day, there are new headlines about AI and automation, predicting everything from the end of work to the creation of hyper-productive cyborg employees. The subject generates a lot of debate and a lot of hype, stoked along the way by fears for the future of humans and their jobs.

What’s often missing in this debate are reliable facts and insights. The reciprocal relationship between work design and employee performance is heavily influenced by the technology we use. Augmentation – the collaboration between human and machines – manifests in various ways across different job roles and industries. But the scope of this collaboration and the opportunity for impact on both performance and our experience of work are still largely unknown.

How are humans and machines working together today? What impact does augmentation – with AI and automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) — have on company performance but also on human workers’ lives? Automation Anywhere decided to find out.

To do this, it commissioned a team of independent researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, to conduct what we believe is the most in-depth and authoritative research to date on the role and impact of augmentation in the workplace, today and in the future.

The team started with a comprehensive survey of academic and non-academic literature about business automation. It went on to interview leading experts on the topic, including futurist Ben Hammersley as well as Fast Future CEO Rohit Talwar. Finally, the Goldsmiths, University of London researchers surveyed over 400 senior decision makers from major corporations in the US, India, Japan and the UK to find out how their companies were using technology to augment their human workforce.

Goldsmiths, University of London and Automation Anywhere are grateful to all the interviewees and survey participants for their help in building a full picture of the state of AI, RPA and augmentation in the modern workplace. Their contributions were invaluable, and we thank them for it.

Research team

The research was directed by Dr. Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation in the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London and Founder of the Centre for Creative and Social Technologies (CAST). Dr. Chris Brauer was advised by Dr. Jennifer Barth with researchers Cleary Ahern, Alexia Samara and research assistant Miguel Vieira Toro.

Insights from the combination of methods were verified quantitatively through a questionnaire completed by 400 senior decision makers, based in large enterprises (1000+ employees) in four markets (UK, US, Japan, India) and across three sectors (banking/finance, insurance, and manufacturing). The survey fieldwork was conducted using both online and phone interviews by independent research agency Coleman Parkes.

Subject matter expert academics and professionals interviewed during the research include:

  • Mihir Shukla, CEO, Automation Anywhere
  • Rohit Talwar, AI Expert, Fast Future Research
  • Ben Hammersley, Futurist
  • Sabyasachi Roy, Practice Director, Artificial Intelligence & Cognitive RPA, Technology Advisory, Accenture FS UK&I
  • Genevieve Bell, Professor, Engineering & Computer Science, Australian National University & Senior Fellow, New Technology Group, INTEL
  • Amory Booher, Senior Vice President, Risk Technology and Productivity, BBVA Compass
  • Daniel Pink, Author & Speaker
  • Josie Young MSc, AI Transformation Specialist, Co-Chair YWCA, Great Britain

Automation is not a future trend –
it’s happening now

Augmented organizations outperform non-augmented enterprises and have more ‘human’ workplaces

Digital technology’s nascent autonomy promises an evolutionary leap in our capacity to grow as human beings. While the hyped potential of AI generates endless headlines – both positive and negative – technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are quietly being rolled out in many of the most well-run organizations around the world.

It’s early days and you might not be able to see it, but be in no doubt, humans and bots are already working alongside each other across the globe and in every sector. Where businesses are getting it right, the best of our human capabilities are being augmented by technology to create efficiencies and innovations before unimagined.

The Augmented Human EnterpriseAugmented organizations outperform non-augmented enterprises and have more ‘human’ workplaces

“A lot of the benefits that come from augmentation don’t just result from the augmentation itself but from the general reappraisal of how the organization is operating.”

Ben Hammersley, Futurist

Technology is a leading characteristic that defines what it means to be human. Human beings have always used tools to enhance their capabilities. From the manipulation of stone blades that allowed us to cut deeper than we could with our hands and teeth, to the majestic advances of the Industrial Revolution, which brought with it unprecedented innovation and improved quality of life – though some might say at a cost.

The Digital Era bears many similarities to the Industrial Revolution in that it represents, once again, a period of rapid development and economic change1. The critical difference is that, where machines and tools have previously been handled or supervised largely by humans, digital innovation has expanded to a point where digital tools are becoming autonomous and self-directing.

The implications of this shift are enormous but are hardly unique. Both the modern age and the Industrial Revolution retain social anxiety surrounding a perceived loss of jobs or shifts in the nature or quality of work2. Historically, though, technological development typically leads to lower prices, which lead in turn to increased demand.

Augmentation, then, is not new. It's a continual bi-product of the human pursuit of technological innovation. We identify a problem and develop tools to solve that problem. These tools change the way we work, increase productivity, and, by extension, augment both our physical and intellectual capacity. This, in turn, allows us to keep innovating. Today, we face unique challenges – and tremendous opportunities – precisely because digital technology’s nascent autonomy promises an evolutionary leap in our capacity to grow as human beings.

And, as you’ll see from the findings of our report, many companies are already capitalizing on these opportunities. Successful augmentation sees organizations outperform non-augmented enterprises and have more ‘human’ workplaces. But first, let’s clear up some definitions.

What do we mean by augmentation?

An augmented workplace is one in which humans and technology come together to create something greater than either alone. Companies use technology to extend and enhance human capabilities in ways which make employees more productive.

At the same time, augmentation allows human workers to transfer lower-skilled tasks to machines, so they can concentrate on the high-value and creative tasks. For this report, we look specifically at augmentation using two rising technologies.

The technologies involved

The first augmentation technology is artificial intelligence (AI), which we define as a machine that can learn from its experiences and use what it’s learned to become more efficient. For now, this behavior is confined to specific tasks and ranges of tasks. We have not yet developed what’s known as a ‘general AI’: one able to think and behave like a human.

The second technology is robotic process automation (RPA). Using RPA, companies can capture employee inputs in rules-based processes and then use software to automate those inputs. It’s a highly efficient way of automating the repetitive, manual elements of a workflow in a way that fits in naturally with the working practices and preferences of human employees.

The leading augmented workplaces are often already a long way down the road to realizing the goal of hyper-productivity across the enterprise. They are 83% more likely to have deployed RPA-based augmentation throughout the whole enterprise than their non-augmented competitor. For AI-based augmentation, that figure is 81%. This gives them a formidable competitive advantage, with augmented organizations 32% likelier to say that they derive the full benefit from emerging technologies.

“In augmented work environments, you generally see a positive impact on performance. Increased efficiency in work leads to increased output, which in turn pushes up performance indicators. People are also likely to report greater job satisfaction because their mundane work has been taken on by RPA systems and their freed time is allocated to other types of work that are more enjoyable.”

Rohit Talwar, AI Expert, Fast Future Research

The elements of augmentation

For the study, we examined what we consider to be the two core elements of successful augmentation:

  • Collaboration: the ability of humans and machines to work together in a reciprocal way
  • Optimization: humans and machines mutually adapting work styles for maximum benefit

Throughout the report, we’ll consider how these elements of augmentation interact, what results they produce and how this differs across different sectors and from market to market.

How ‘human’ is your work?

More human workplaces get the most out of augmentation technology investments

We questioned leaders at some of the world’s largest firms on the extent to which they are humanizing their work environments to help people meet their full potential. More simply, are they making work human? We then looked at whether augmentation is having a positive or negative affect on this human experience. Counterintuitively, augmentation amplifies the human experience, and strengthens the link between employee learning, growth and engagement and organizational performance.

Making work humanMore ‘human’ workplaces get the most out of technology investments

Work is more human when employees are freed from repetitive low-value tasks to concentrate on higher-value creative and strategic elements of their jobs.

The important thing to understand is that this does not happen by itself. Our research shows that it happens because an organization makes a conscious decision to use automation in a way that enhances employees’ skills and complements their working style.

The good news is that businesses which value employee engagement foster a growth mindset and create an environment in which employees can learn new skills easily, and as a result increase the performance benefit derived from augmentation.

Why do ‘more human’ workplaces see greater benefits?

Our interviews with subject specialists as well as the survey of business leaders revealed several links between ‘more human’ workplaces and successful augmentation. These fell into four broad categories:

1. Learning

An organization that has a learning culture allows and encourages workers to continuously develop their skills in ways that benefit the business, but also increase employee satisfaction and engagement. Our research found that augmented enterprises were 37% more likely to prioritize employee learning and development than non-augmented competitors. This is consistent with the finding that not only does augmentation promote a more human workplace, workplaces with an open culture that fosters learning are also more likely to augment and to do it successfully.

In our research, 74% of respondents who worked in manufacturing said their organizations encourage both structured and unstructured learning, the largest proportion of the three sectors surveyed. Manufacturing was also the sector in which the greatest proportion of respondents, 71%, reported an increase in productivity due to software automation.

To maximize the positive impact of augmentation, organizations should foster a culture in which learning is ongoing — both within structured training sessions but also, crucially, as an unstructured part of everyday work life — and experimentation is encouraged.

2. Mindset

A person, or organization, with a growth mindset1 — as defined by Professor of Psychology Dr. Carol Dweck — can absorb, learn from and successfully move on from failure or setbacks. Someone with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, sees failure as resulting from immutable limitations, and therefore not something that can be overcome.

Our research found a positive correlation between organizations which fostered a growth mindset — collectively and in their individual employees — and the ability to maximize benefits from AI- and RPA-based augmentation.

Studies have shown that it is possible to move from a fixed to a growth mindset and that interventions can be used to promote this. Businesses in the planning phase of augmentation should take steps to promote a growth mindset as part of the preparation process.

3. Engagement

“Organizations planning to adopt RPA- and AI-based augmentation show lower levels of engagement than those who already invest in it.”

When employees are passionate about and feel a personal connection to their job, causing them to respond by investing energy and their personality in their work, that qualifies as engagement. In our research, we discovered that employees in augmented enterprises were 38% more engaged than those in non-augmented competitors.

The latest Gallup survey2 reports 22% higher productivity for organizations with highly engaged workers. In our survey, we found that organizations planning to adopt RPA- and AI-based augmentation show lower levels of engagement than those who already invest in it.

For instance, augmented enterprises were 41% more likely to encourage their employees to seek opportunities for professional growth, with obvious implications for engagement.

This reinforces the finding that augmentation has the potential to make work more human. It suggests to us that organizations planning augmentation should pay extra attention to maintaining and increasing levels of engagement by working with and listening to employees.

4. Ethics

In this context, organizational ethics are consistent values which employees understand and internalize and which the business applies universally and transparently.

Our work found a strong connection between successfully creating a culture of engagement and valuing organizational ethics. Augmented enterprises were 31% more likely to prioritize high ethical standards in their business and their interactions with employees.

Organizations planning a wide-ranging automation and augmentation effort should consider how well articulated, accepted and internalized their business ethics are within the company.

“For me the most interesting question is not: ‘how do we preserve what's human about our work?’ It’s how do we ask the right questions about what trade-offs we are willing to make. The idea that automation is better than humans across the board is incorrect. What we need to do, is find out where it can really make a different for the better.”

Dr. Genevieve Bell, Australian National University

The performance boost of human + machine

The impact of augmentation is amplified with investment in making work human

We investigated the relationship between business performance and augmentation with RPA and AI technologies. Augmentation alone predicts performance gains, but these are supercharged when firms also invest in making work human. Here we explore why the human workplace will always outcompete businesses that focus on the machine alone.

Peak performanceAugmentation increases performance, but highly human work environments see a significantly larger performance boost


So how does augmentation impact business performance? And what can companies do to maximize the increase in performance arising from RPA- and AI-based augmentation?

In our research, augmented enterprises achieved 31% higher financial performance and 30% greater business performance than their non-augmented counterparts. But gains of this magnitude cannot be taken for granted.

For augmentation to yield the maximum return on investment (ROI), ‘performance’ must be defined in a way that’s more holistic than simply short-term gains to the bottom line. We identified three core elements of performance as a concept:

  • Business goals: the company should be able to pursue tactical goals without losing sight of strategic goals. Both should be given equal weight.
  • Continuous innovation: the organization should be able to focus on and work towards success today while also planning for and working towards tomorrow’s goals.
  • Cultural and value-centric: the ability to prioritize the human experience of work in a consistent and values-based way.

Our research shows that companies investing in RPA- and AI-based augmentation see improvements across all three areas. Overall, augmented organizations had a level of performance 28% higher than the baseline for non-augmented competitors.

One striking finding was the heightened ability of augmented companies to operate “bimodally”, prioritizing both present and future, tactical and strategic, goals. Augmented enterprises were 24% more likely to prioritize both strategic and tactical goals simultaneously.

Companies which had successfully augmented key workflows were 32% more likely to prioritize tactical goals than non-augmented counterparts but also 30% more likely to prioritize strategic performance goals. They also score 26% for cultural performance — their ability to prioritize creating and sustaining a human workplace — than their counterparts.

Looking at standard business performance metrics, companies in all three sectors we studied — banking/finance, insurance and manufacturing — reported improvements after augmentation. In the finance sector, productivity rose by almost 17% and profitability by just under 33%.

Digital augmentation promotes innovation. By allowing employees to offload high-risk, repetitive and low-value tasks onto automated systems, it frees humans to think creatively and strategically. It also enhances human decision-making abilities, by improving analytical and data-processing capabilities.

Culture also feeds into the success of and benefits from successful augmentation. Organizations that prioritize the human experience of work see higher performance outcomes across all performance areas.

Taken together, these findings suggest that all organizations can benefit — across a range of performance areas — through the targeted use of automation technology. But to maximize this benefit, they must put in place the values and culture needed to support automation. And they must be clear about the long- and short-term goals they wish to hit and then deploy augmentation accordingly.

“We are transitioning from our initial focus on the financial benefits of the technology and are now building the business case to get the technology into every aspect of the organization. We can say, ‘look, here is an opportunity to unleash creativity in all areas of the organization and maybe people who were not previously in a position to innovate will have the capability to do that.”

Amory Booher, Senior Vice President, Risk Technology and Productivity, BBVA Compass


What does the research tell us about building the Augmented Human Enterprise?

RecommendationsHow can organizations ready themselves for augmentation and guarantee the maximum return on technology investment?

Despite the strong consensus that augmented organizations performed better and sustained more human workplaces, only 32% of respondents said their organization used RPA- and AI-based augmentation to its full potential.While this is a loss for industry as a whole, it is a great opportunity for those companies ready and willing to commit to augmentation now.

Based on our survey findings, our interviews with subject-matter experts and our review of the academic literature, the project team has formulated three core recommendations. These are things companies can and should do now, to get ready for and begin the process of augmentation in a way that will give them a competitive advantage.

1. Codify your company’s ethics

For many years, Google’s motto was famously “do no evil”. This simple formulation impacted how the company conducted work in areas such as user-interface design and the writing of algorithms which chose which search results to highlight.

What ethical principles guide your company’s actions? Because we intuitively know right from wrong, we often don’t bother to codify our company’s ethical code. Or if we do, the codification concentrates on the regulated front-line area of the business.

But codification can have a far greater positive impact if it’s applied to the whole enterprise. Start with a basic premise, such as “do no evil”. Then, sitting with a company org chart, for each area of your organization write a few sentences explaining how this foundational ethical principle applies to employees, suppliers and customers.

Keep each section short; ideally no more than a paragraph or two. Write in plain language that everyone in your company will understand. Once the document is complete, circulate it for feedback among all employees. Where you can, include this feedback in the final document.

Once your code of ethics is complete, introduce it across the enterprise. Explain how it will inform the way employees work with each other and with third-parties. The document is a tool for everyone in your company to use in creating an open culture built on an ethical and behavioral consensus that fosters a high level of engagement in all employees.

2. Audit key workstreams

Often, we’re so familiar with what we do every day at work that we find it difficult to articulate step-by-step what any given part of our job actually entails. Some parts of the process are so familiar that we take them for granted. Occasionally, we may notice this as we prepare a training for a new employee. But for the most part, everyone just gets on with what they are doing.

Conducting a workflow and process audit finds and makes concrete all of these unconscious assumptions and tasks that are successfully completed day in, day out mainly thanks to your company’s collective muscle memory. Cataloging these makes them available to analysis and optimization.

Even before augmentation, the process of auditing, articulating and documenting key processes, and the knowledge that underlies them, creates many opportunities for optimization. It gives you the opportunity to institutionalize previously implicit knowledge, improving company resilience in the face of change. It may help identify key workers and star performers. And it sets the stage for successful augmentation.

3. Choose areas for augmentation

Having audited your workstreams, identify those areas in which employees are performing repetitive tasks, the inputs and outputs of which follow predictable patterns. These are the tasks which are most open to augmentation.

Work with key stakeholders and trusted experts, including external partners where appropriate, to capture, record and analyze each step of these processes, with an eye to automating where it will be beneficial.

Your goal is to optimize the workflow in a way that allows these steps to be automated using AI or RPA and in a way that not only enhances efficiency but is also sympathetic with the working styles and routines of the human employees who will work alongside the augmentation technology in this workflow.

Once this process is complete, work with your technology partners to capture and automate the relevant steps in the work process. Task them to help you collect data on the effectiveness of the augmented workflow, stage by stage. This data, and the initial experience of augmentation, will give your company the background, skill and knowledge it needs to embrace augmentation across the enterprise as a way of achieving hyper productivity.

“Think of the human body breathing. It’s a complex and critical mechanism, but automated, so our brains are freed to power everything else we do. I think for many organizations, all they can do is breathe. It’s so important, it’s all the employees can focus on. But when that breathing is automated within the organization, then employees can focus on so many strategic issues and opportunities.”

Mihir Shukla, CEO, Automation Anywhere





SectorsHow is augmentation impacting different sectors of the economy?

To better understand how RPA- and AI-based augmentation is impacting the way we do business, we concentrated on three sectors in which augmentation is particularly relevant — banking and finance, manufacturing and insurance.


The manufacturing sector is currently undergoing a revolution commonly labelled “Industry 4.0”. Widely understood as a new industrial revolution, this involves the move to smart factories in which key systems are not only fully automated but also constantly feeding data from thousands of sensors to central control programs.


In such a system, every input can be constantly fine-tuned and managed with just-in-time precision. This allows companies to minimize waste, keep inventory levels low, spot faults or bottlenecks before they occur and maximize production.


In our survey, manufacturing showed a high degree of organizational readiness for AI- and RPA-based augmentation. 71% of manufacturing respondents said their company was open to new technologies. Employee engagement is high, at 80%. And more than 80% of respondents agree that their organization can focus on both present and future goals simultaneously.


This benign framework for augmentation is reflected in its positive impact on the sector. 71% of respondents agree that automation has had a beneficial impact on employees. 79% agree it has freed up employee time. And 71% report increased effectiveness due to automation.


However, there are signs that manufacturing may be missing out on the full potential of augmentation. 71% of respondents said their company approached augmentation in a highly structured fashion. This is understandable in the context of a factory floor and of highly inter-dependent Industry 4.0 systems. But in many complementary areas — for instance back-office functions — it could be stifling employee initiative and beneficial experimentation.


With the advent of Open Banking, the finance industry is preparing for an explosion in the volume of transactions. Traditional banks are gearing up for increased competition from fintechs for customers whose data the banks will now, with consumer permission, be obliged to share with competitors.


Successfully managing these changes requires increased efficiency through automation. Expected transaction volumes can only be processed — with the proper levels of anti-money-laundering scrutiny — by intelligent and automated systems.


In an increasingly competitive market, customer relationships must be managed in real-time by intelligent systems able to spot patterns that banks can use to reduce churn, maximize conversion rates and increase customer lifetime value (CLV).


61% of finance respondents said their organizations were ready to embrace technology. 71% said that their organizations encouraged both structured and unstructured learning. But only 59% said their company fostered a growth mindset and just 52% said it encouraged them to take risks. Perhaps surprising to some critics of the sector, finance also scored high for the value respondents feel it places on organizational ethics.


As with manufacturing, 79% of respondents agree that automation frees up employee time. 67% say that automation increases effectiveness. 79% say employee productivity increases with automation.


The insurance industry is very similar to banking and finance. Like banking, it faces competition from new and nimble online competition (unencumbered with legacy systems), dubbed ‘insuretech’.


Significantly, however, there is a marked difference in the responses of insurance executives, compared to their colleagues in finance. Only 48% of insurance respondents say that RPA- and AI-based augmentation have a positive impact on employee effectiveness. Just 51% say their companies are open to embracing new technologies.


This relatively low state of preparedness is reflected in the impact augmentation is making on the insurance industry. Only 60% report increased effectiveness due to automation.


To be more effective in the use of augmentation, insurance should concentrate on aspects of culture which help to make work more human, particularly the fostering of a growth mindset and a pro-learning environment. Not doing so risks the sector being overtaken by new online challengers.






MarketsSome markets are readier to benefit from augmentation than others


US companies that have been through a process of augmentation are highly positive about the experience. But those that haven’t show a higher-than-usual level of wariness about the implications of change. This suggests a market that will benefit greatly from automation but only if internal evangelists can create the necessary momentum for change.


Respondents from the United States were not confident that their organizations were making the most of automation. Just 51% said that their employees were using RPA- and AI-based automation to the limit of its capabilities.


62% of American respondents say their organizations encourage employees to learn. But only 60% say that RPA- or AI-based automation has led to greater employee wellbeing. Only 48% of US respondents said their organizations encouraged risk taking and exploring new ideas, both key elements of a growth mindset and a culture open to learning.


The US scores second from the bottom out of the four markets for employee listening. It also has relatively high levels of job-loss anxiety, with 74% saying this is a problem. 85% of respondents say their organization can focus on current and future goals simultaneously. And 74% say employee productivity has been improved due to automation.


Of all those surveyed, Indian respondents were most likely to say that their organizations embraced emerging technologies for everyday tasks. 71% of Indian respondents also said that their employees used RPA- and AI-based augmentation to its full potential, the highest proportion for any of the four markets surveyed.


India also performs well in some elements required to make work more human. 66% of Indian respondents said that they are empowered to take risks and 77% said their organization prioritized employee development; in both cases the highest proportion of positive responses for any of the four markets. India also outscores the other markets on employee engagement and (with an impressive 84%) on employee listening.


Unsurprisingly, with such a positive background environment, India leads the way in reaping the benefits of augmentation, with 86% of the respondents saying that automation has increased employee productivity.


The Japanese have a somewhat contradictory relationship to RPA- and AI-based augmentation. On the one hand, our survey showed that 46% of Japanese organizations are currently investing in RPA while another 51% plan to invest in the following 12 months. This is the highest percentage amongst the four markets surveyed.


On the other hand, Japanese respondents also said their employees struggle to get the most out of the tools available or see the expected benefits to working styles and employee wellbeing (46%). Only 36% of Japanese respondents said their organizations were open to exploring new ideas and 59% said their companies encouraged employees to seek new learning opportunities.


Only 59% of Japanese respondents said that augmentation freed up employee time, the smallest proportion in the study. Similarly, only 63% said that their organization was able to prioritize both present and future goals simultaneously. And just 55% said they were confident that their organization could handle new opportunities.


54% of British respondents said their employees were able to get the most from RPA- and AI-based automation. The UK leads the markets surveyed in promoting continuous learning and a growth mindset. 80% said their organization could be relied upon to enforce ethical behavior and 76% said their company listened to employees.


72% of British respondents said their organization was ready to take advantage of new opportunities (the second highest score in the survey), a key indicator of performance. 85% of respondents said that their company could focus on near-term and long-term goals at the same time. 64% of British respondents said their employees were more effective and enjoyed greater wellbeing thanks to augmentation, making the UK the market with the second-highest score for this category.

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