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Interview: How Companies Can Start Preparing for a Future Dominated by Automation and AI

As technology continues to advance, the entire nature of employment is beginning to change. Automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have not fully upended the landscape — yet. But disruption and displacement are coming faster than most companies realize, so now is the time to begin preparing for the inevitable changes ahead.

Blue Bell, Pennsylvania-based IT giant Unisys (NYSE: UIS) is one of the companies most attuned to how innovation and technological change are intersecting with business. So to shed more light on what is one of the greatest challenges of our time, Eric Hutto, senior vice president and president of enterprise solutions for Unisys, and Eduardo Almeida, vice president of general manager for Latin America, recently sat down with Finance TnT Executive Editor Loren Moss.

In the following conversation, they offer their expert perspective on how companies and the workforce must adapt and prepare for a future dominated by automation and AI.

Eduardo Almeida unisys

Eduardo Almeida, vice president of general operations at Unisys. (Credit: Unisys)

Loren Moss: How do we handle the change — in the workplace and society — of using more robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence? It has great potential to increase efficiency and productivity, but are organizations ready for how disruptive these technologies will be?

Eric Hutto: The great debate as we are moving with AI and automation processes is what do we do with all people. Look at the data: There are 7.2 billion people in the world and there will be 11.2 billion by 2100. The question is about balancing it all: the growing population, job creation, and everything that we do with our economies.

AI itself is inevitable. It’s just a matter of how far we take it and where we apply it to get the best benefit for humanity. There’s a balance here to that equation.

At Unisys, we are beginning to study the impact of change on people, the fear of technology, and how it is changing cultures. It’s either going to build bridges between countries or it’s going to make it even worse.

Loren Moss: How do people today prepare for this changing relationship to work? There may be people who currently work in IT support for banking  at Unisys. Bu in 10 years, maybe that job is going to be automated. How do they get the skills to prepare themselves so that Unisys or other companies will want to hire them in the future? How has this new landscape changed what Unisys is looking for changed?

Eric Hutto: There is so much talent out there in the market. If you go to any IT trade show, there are thousands of them. But if you are looking for someone in technology, how do you know who is the best?

I look for design thinkers first. Because what companies are dealing with are real business problems, real-world problems, and real people problems. And the design thinker, to me, is someone who is a student of solving a problem. I think that that is will shift as we move into the future: There won’t be industries, there will be problems to solve. So the design thinkers are what we will need over the next 10 years.

“Today’s digital companies…don’t want VPs, directors, and managers. They want design thinkers, and they want creative people. That is digital transformation.” – Eric Hutto

And we are finding them today in unusual places. You are looking for that creative mind — someone who who can envision an outcome, envision a path. They may not know all the technologies, and that is where the technologies are still valuable. But to me, at least over the next decade, this is critical.

Because just look at all the technologies that we have today. And yet we still have fundamental business problems. We have all this technology, all this intelligence, and we still look around at corporations on the stock market that are failing. So something is still not there.

And I think we need to look at the traditional structures of companies and how we actively manage talent instead of allowing our talent rise. You can look at this in traditional companies vs. today’s digital companies that don’t operate anything like that. They don’t want VPs, directors, and managers. They want design thinkers, and they want creative people. That is digital transformation. I am not talking about revenue streams. I am talking about structure. We are not prepared for that. It will take a decade.

Loren Moss: This mentality seems slow to catch on, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America. How do companies overcome that barrier to prepare and employ this talent for new opportunities?

Eric Hutto: We see such different levels of maturity and thinking on this road to the digital, but I think it requires talking about beliefs and behaviors of what we want to be in the future. If we can create the right beliefs, it will get the right behavior and clients will get the right outcomes. But hiring is not going to be through a traditional path. You can go and find very creative people in the arts and music, for example.

You have to think about where are you going to search for the next creative mind. In an IT organization, we tend to go right back down and we recruit from our competitors. Their people want to come to us. But the truth is that that is the same thinking. That’s the same structure. They have been trained the same way. So I think we are going to have to think about where the next creative minds come from, and I don’t know that it’s inside IT.

Eduardo Almeida: We must disrupt. I can give you an example. We have surveyed 12,000 people in Latin America about their digital workplace experience, and if they come to work for a company they want to have the same experience using technology that they have in their houses. So if you have a MacBook Pro in your house and you come to work and you get another type of computer, that’s not that good. You will be frustrated and you don’t want to work for that company.

The difference between the employees from the 20th century and the 21st century is the behaviors and their expectations. We don’t believe that people were born to do reductive jobs. We must be creative.

What do we do normally as a company is offer our people the ability to learn. We train people how to use technology for the sake of the business — but also to develop themselves and make a difference in their community or society.

Loren Moss: How has Unisys seen the demand for technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning change?

Eric Hutto, senior vice president and president of enterprise solutions for Unisys. (Photo credit: Unisys)

Eric Hutto, senior vice president and president of enterprise solutions for Unisys. (Photo credit: Unisys)

Eric Hutto: There are a lot of emerging technologies, and I see AI is as much as a concept as it is a technology. It is becoming more useful, but it is on a small scale. We might be years away from large-scale AI running corporations and making a lot of big decisions. The big difference is decision making.

We are on the cusp of watching it become very impactful, but I think we are going to channel it into processes of supply chain of automation, which we have always looked at from a cost efficiency standpoint. AI will begin to make those changes, and people will be involved in logistical shifts.

But there still needs to be a decision made. I get more excited when you combine AI with the Internet of Things. When you aggregate those technologies, you can create an outcome that’s superior, and I think the greatest benefit we could all apply to AI right now is securing the world by learning how to see patterns and making decisions.

In the government space, they are trying to figure out how to get AI to be a lot more decisive and predictive to actually help to make decisions quicker.

We were just talking earlier about the terrorists that want to disrupt economies. They want to keep us living in fear, and we’ve got to find a way to return to that fearless living. At the same time we’ve got to protect our economies. To me, that is where we can channel our energy as a technology industry.

Loren Moss: What are some of the other emerging applications of AI and automation that this workforce of the future will help transform in the years ahead?

Eric Hutto: I think it’s amazing what is going to open up in terms of scientific research and advancements. For example, my mother died of heart disease, so I am encouraged about what it going to do for us in just the terms of battling diseases.

“The difference between the employees from the 20th century and the 21st century is the behaviors and their expectations. We don’t believe that people were born to do reductive jobs. We must be creative.” – Eduardo Almeida

And think about safe cities. We are very much pushing the safe city concept. We protect borders and have a lot of great border protection around the world. But now that’s going to extend to borders in terms of infrastructure, logical plans, and things that can be structured similarly.

There are questions about privacy versus safety. We can connect all of those devices that are already out there, like cameras on banks, but they don’t share what they see. And this brings us to IoT and connected cars. If they all can connect, and AI sees a pattern anomaly of a car that goes on to a sidewalk, if it’s a connected car, maybe the AI can shut it down.

With safe cities, from a technology standpoint, we have so much further to go. But all these components are popping up and you have to have discussions about eventually letting them connect. And that’s the power of AI.

Loren Moss: I was talking to some at BBVA bank and one of their people in Spain gave a talk about how to use technology to do social entrepreneurship. How can the large backbone providers, companies like Unisys, be kind of a foundation of this type of concept?

Eduardo Almeida: We have to have a crystallization of education. The only way to make sure people are able to succeed in the future is by providing them a solid foundation and access to learning. It’s fundamental. And we are struggling as a region, in Latin America, to provide the universalization of education. This can help big time.

READ MORE: RPA Implementation Proves Challenging – But Rewarding – for Insurance Companies

I talked with some associates of Unisys earlier today about education. We provide English training to our associates through applications on the web on their computers, and we should work closer with governments to promote this vision and provide technology that enables people to have universal access to education.

We just want to make sure that governments understand the relevance of education to improve citizens lives and make sure that they are able to be competitive in this 21st century.

This interview first appeared on Finance TnT. It has been republished with permission.

(Top image credit: Skyangel / Pixabay)

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