5 Things Not to Automate

We are Automation Nation. You know McKinsey’s stat: at least 30% to 60% of jobs can be automated with today’s technology. How much of your job have you managed to automate? We’re so proud of saving time and money, working smarter, being uber-efficient. I myself have several digital twins to do the grunt work so I can focus on higher-level tasks. And it’s not just me…

Now the business world is abuzz with Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Gartner just crowned it the fastest growing enterprise software market. I’m excited about RPA because it’s machines using computers the way humans do–not with data and inputs, but with visual cues and logic; jumping around based on what data is available when.

Market leader UiPath says RPA is ideal for automating any “high-volume, business-rules-driven, repeatable process,” which is why it’s been revolutionary for the financial services industry. And now you can throw a little AI in the mix and have Cognitive RPA, smart robots.

“We’ll be able to automate all the things! The sky’s the limit, right?”

Wrong. Your friendly neighborhood high-tech humanist is here to tell you: There is absolutely a limit. There are certain things you should never, ever automate. Here’s the list:

1. Your Core Competency

That thing you do better than anyone else? That’s what makes your company valuable. Do not farm it out to any robots, intelligent or otherwise. If you can automate your core competency, you’re a commodity. And that’s a bad place to be in this knowledge-based economy at the dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Now is the time to identify, leverage and grow whatever makes your business uniquely human.

2. Variable Processes

When you’re programming robots, any change to the process they’re learning can complicate matters and slow progress. So it’s best to make sure you’ve optimized the process beforehand. Of course change is inevitable. Fortunately, not all change is created equal. Today’s bots can handle predictable change. If there are rules for the change, go ahead and automate it. If we’re talking about fully unpredictable change to a process (like, perhaps, the stock market or public opinion), probably best to keep humans at the helm.

3. Creativity

Talk about a variable process! Creatives know all too well the unpredictable chaos from which a brand new thing eventually emerges. Now, I have been known to say, “AI is rocket fuel for creativity,” and I stand behind that statement. But there’s a big difference between allowing artificial intelligence to bring you a pile of junk optimized for your creative process and putting AI in charge of that creative process. I endorse the former and condemn the latter.

4. Anything Emotionally Charged

Our friends in human resources know all about this one. There are plenty of HR tasks ripe for automation. Go ahead and automate scheduling requests, filling out forms, pushing papers. Disciplinary action, interpersonal conflict, termination? You need a real person with high EQ to navigate those minefields. Bots need not apply. Customer service has similar delineations. Automate FAQs, but if someone calls in to receive or discuss sensitive, personal information, they need to speak to an empathetic human.

5. Deep Collaboration

If you love your job, I’m willing to bet this is what you love most, your work family. They have an innate ability to share expertise, bring out the best in each other, and work together toward a novel solution. Call it teamwork, synergy, esprit de corps. It is impossible to automate. You can and should, however, use technology to enable it. That’s why we continue to see new enterprise tech solutions for bringing people together across time and space in increasingly organic ways.

Excel at Being Human

Here’s my stock line on automation: “Please use responsibly.” I hold Trader Joe’s up as a prime example of responsible tech use — probably because they are really good at all 5 of the things you should never automate. In this era of self-service, they are putting more people on the floor, not fewer. Trader Joe’s values and facilitates human-to-human interaction and collaboration because these are the things that are critical to success in our age of the augmented human.

Before you think about what else you can automate, I highly recommend identifying the human value you bring to the marketplace. What is the humanness you are delivering? If you don’t know, it’s time to figure it out.


About Tim

Tim Kulp took an unconventional path to his tech career, so it makes sense that his tech career is anything but conventional. A homegrown Maryland boy, Tim has always been captivated by what makes us uniquely human: art, religion, storytelling. These are the things he studied in college before “a series of coincidences led to an accident,” his first IT job.

Now, whether working with startups, global brands, advertisers or healthcare providers, he pushes clients to find the technology that makes them more creative, more productive, more human. As our VP of Innovation & Strategy, he’s known throughout the Mid-Atlantic as the guy who makes tech people-centric.

When Tim isn’t working or spending time with his family, he’s still working. Honing his storytelling craft, mentoring up-and-coming professionals, or reading up on game design and theory. That’s how it is when your job is also your calling. In the era of artificial intelligence, Tim’s crusade to make us more human can’t be confined to business hours.