Its clear at this stage that, love it or hate it, artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining traction in the enterprise. It is also clear that it is changing the way people work and will work in the future. However, while even the popular media now talks about jobs disappearing to AI, those jobs are generally low-level, repetitive jobs which machines, if trained, could do.

Managers and AI

That said, there are many management tasks that are repetitive and time consuming and which, according to Gartner, will be done by AI in the very near future. In fact, by 2024, Gartner predicts that these technologies will replace almost 69% of the manager’s workload.

AI and emerging technologies will undeniably change the role of the manager and will allow employees to extend their degree of responsibility and influence, without taking on management tasks, the report Predicts 2020: AI and the Future of Work (subscription required), forecasts. It also indicates that leaders focused on innovation and AI are now accountable for improving worker experience, developing worker skills and building organizational competency in responsible use of AI.

For Daly City, Calif.-based Genesys, which develops customer experience and call center technology, this evolution has started. Cameron Smith is VP of product management. He told us that at Genesys, they are hearing a lot of the same from the thousands of organizations using emerging technologies. The next domain for AI and automation is really around the management interaction both with the operational practices and employee engagement. “With the benefits of AI, we are now understanding the needs for next best action guidance for managers across a variety of operational areas,” he said.

He added that the amount of data now flowing through modern customer experience environments means that managers and operational execution teams are looking for automation and AI to predict events and react and inform of outcomes even before a human has had the ability to understand the scenario.

Related Article: AI vs. Algorithms: What's the Difference?

Time to React

For managers, the challenge is to be ready for this change and the impact it will have on their workforce. Cathy Cobey, an Ernst & Young Global trusted AI advisory leader, agrees that AI is going to have a significant impact on the nature of human work, whether through human augmentation or transference of work tasks and decisions. “To ensure their people are ready for this change, managers need to be reacting now,” she said. “They need to utilize intelligent automation to reduce their administrative burden and focus most of their energy on readying their human workforce for the AI transition”.

Some of the things that must be done to prepare for this include strengthening employees' adaptability and agility, developing reskilling and upskilling training programs, promoting customized learning plans, managing employee technological anxiety and creating a dynamic organization structure. “I predict that managers of the future will leverage robots and AI to manage employee performance, while they focus their time on managing employees' well-being,” she said.

Related Article: 7 Ways Artificial Intelligence is Reinventing Human Resources

Unforeseeable Changes

However, Markus Schmitt of Germany-based Data Revenue, says that the changes in managers’ roles will not be in the way that Gartner is suggesting. On the contrary, he believes that managers will be the least affected group of people. The reason for this is that for the foreseeable future, and certainly the next 4 years, AI will not be able to do tasks that need cross-linking of information in a human context. AI, he explained, is the automation of data analysis — so it can support jobs that involve a lot of rote, repetitive data analysis: research, banking, filing and more. In any case, the percentage doesn't imply that jobs are being replaced. Even if 70% of the jobs would be taken by AI, it doesn't necessarily mean that even one manager will lose his job. 

In this way AI is no different to any other tool in the workplace, like email, or Excel or a marketing automation tool. You could argue for each of these tools that they replaced 70% of the work for some managers — but it didn't replace them, it just supported them in getting more done,” he said. “It became second nature, and no one is questioning it.”

Learning Opportunities

The job of the manager will not be overhauled. Ideally managers will need to do fewer menial tasks — and this will make them more of a manager. More of who they already are. “The jobs that AI can help with will just mean that managers can do more of what we and they think they should be doing anyway: strategic decisions, human conversations, complex judgments. And none of these will be touched by AI in the next 4 or even 10 years,” he added.

The Business Case

For AI to work in the enterprise whether it be at manager level or in the workplace itself, it has to be tied to specific business outcomes, according to Tom Wilde, CEO at Boston-based Indico. He points to the fact that, analysts like Gartner are saying, only 15-20% of AI projects ever get approved to expand into production. And only about half of those projects (designated for production) make it into production. “There are a lot of factors — process, infrastructure, organizational dynamics — that impact how AI will work (or not),” he said. “But the biggest issue in our experience is that too many data science teams start AI initiatives without a clear business goal/KPI in mind. As a result, they are doomed to fail before they start.”

Related to this is how much collaboration there is between technologists and the line of business people that have the necessary subject matter expertise. The most successful AI projects are those that have the line of business involved, as they define use cases, identify good training data, and train the machine learning models required to automate specific business processes.

Neither can do it alone. Business users need enough technical context; technical implementers need enough business context to drive implementation decisions. This is especially true when you are using AI tech to automate a business process, where both stakeholders are often unclear on the best path forward.”

Digital Workplace Managers In The Future?

So, what’s going to happen in the medium term. Charles Deguara of Orlando-based Redzel, says that even if managers are freed up in some ways, in other ways their workload will increase. Each decade for the past three something major has changed, he told us. With added efficiency comes a greater focus on effectiveness. As the workload is reduced in one area it generally increases the need for competitive advancement in another. Initially early adopters will see an advantage over competitors due to higher efficiency. As the market stabilizes and use of AI becomes more mainstream in the manager’s role, the market will adapt to the new status quo. It is at this point that we will see innovation take place in the manager’s role outside of what AI will offer.

“What is interesting is that with the introduction of AI, the preferred strengths profile, work style, skill set and overall fit for the role will change possibly making a great manager unfit for a management role,” he said.