Workplace automation, including the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, is expected to surge significantly in the next three years throughout the Asia Pacific region. But employers must do more to prepare for the effects of this transformation, experts have warned.

The Global Future of Work Survey from Willis Towers Watson found that although Asian businesses expect automation will account for on average 23 per cent of their output within the next three years, compared to only 13 per cent today, fewer than 5 per cent of respondents believe their HR function is fully prepared for the implications.

Speaking to People Management, experts stressed that while increasing levels of automation affect talent attraction, retention, engagement and development – all of which intrinsically involve HR professionals – that doesn’t mean automation is a bad news story for employees.

Kishan Golyan, market intelligence specialist, Asia Pacific at The Adecco Group, said: “Due to increasing automation, the line between disciplines are blurring, leading to a growing need to integrate them. We see this in IoT [Internet of Things], programmatic advertising and fintech.

“It means that leaders who can create harmony between disciplines are best positioned to thrive in this era, and these leaders must act as cheerleaders and umpires, helping to foster collaboration and managing conflict between different expectations, work styles and priorities among the different disciplines.”

Golyan added that in Singapore and Hong Kong, increasing use of technology and automation was inevitable in order to drive productivity and continued economic growth.

He pointed out in 2016, the Singapore government launched a three-year Automation Support Package worth more than S$400m (US$305m) to support companies “to automate, drive productivity, and scale up”.

Similarly, in March 2018, a Re-industrialisation and Technology Training Programme (RTTP) was launched in Hong Kong. RTTP is part of the HK$500m (US$64m) Technology Talent Scheme, which among other things provides subsidies to companies to train their employees in advanced technologies and recruit postdoctoral individuals for R&D work.

Na Boon Chong, senior client partner, southeast Asia at ‎Aon Hewitt, said his firm had found that seven out of 10 businesses intended to introduce people analytics by the end of 2018, primarily to solve issues around performance, productivity and retention. Although some of the obstacles they raised were a lack of consolidated data, the capability of the current HR team and the ability to link analytics to business outcomes, Boon stressed that time remains to reskill and prepare for the future – whatever that might bring.

“While traditional analyst or transactor roles may be displaced by self-servicing and smarter technologies, new roles with deep skills will emerge as a critical need to support insightful analytics,” Boon said. “Examples are business consultants, who will articulate the key business questions that will drive value for a client; data scientists, who will create predictive algorithms and analytical models that can deliver valuable new insight; and storytellers, who will present data in different ways visually to tell the right story for a specific audience,” he added.

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