Last month we hosted a fascinating Salon with the guys from Innovation Centres Scotland exploring automation and innovation. We invited five panellists along, from a very diverse mix of backgrounds, and gave them five minutes to share their thoughts on the topic before launching into a very lively debate and Q&A session.
Is automation the route to innovation?
This was the question we posed our attendees and panellists (more on them further down in this article).
In a world where technology is evolving faster than ever before and the way our industries operate are being transformed as a result, there is both fear and excitement around how automation may impact our future.
But there is no denying it, automation is already here. It is all around us. From ATMs and their logic derived responses in place of human cash tellers, to major factory machinery and the much-hyped driverless car. In many areas of our modern day lives, automation has created major efficiencies, saving human labour and materials, whilst improving accuracy and output.
What is inevitable, as pointed out by Russell on the evening, is that change is inevitable. How we respond to this change as organisations is, however, not. With growing concern around the job losses automation could bring, what past major disruptions have taught us is that eventually these shifts actually create more jobs. It is the initial loss and the transition period that is the most painful.
But, if we fail to respond to these changes, we will be left behind by those countries willing and able to adapt (with Russell suggesting that the East are already edging ahead of their Western counterparts on this front). In society, adaptation is where we often thrive the most.
This idea of traditional geographic boundaries, however, was challenged by Martin. He posited that technology supersedes geography, increasingly making the idea of exports and imports a superfluous concept. Could the future create a truly international market?
As Colin emphasised, we will see unparalleled levels of innovation and disruption in our lifetimes. But this has the potential to be hugely positive. It will give us the opportunity to better understand our cities and communities, ultimately, bringing about direct social benefit.
Jean talked about the importance of focusing on the human part of HR and that, no matter what happens with technology, truly successful businesses will never forget this. Automation has the potential to level the playing field and counter unconscious human bias. But it will not banish inequality, rather displace it. We need to be more intelligent around how we open up this potential.
As Anne highlighted, we need to consider the skills we provide to adults to deal with automation. Because we’re not just talking about the automation of mechanical tasks, we’re talking about the automation of ‘thinking’ tasks. Automation could be the means by which we make jobs more purposeful, added Jean, with a focus on what makes people so phenomenal.
A little about our panellists:
- Russell Gunson, Director of IPPR Scotland – Before joining IPPR in 2015, Russell worked across sectors, most recently in the position of director of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, working on a cross-party basis within Scottish politics. Russell was a commissioner on the independent Commission on Widening Access, and was a founding director of Safe Deposits Scotland, the only non-profit tenancy deposit protection scheme based in Scotland.
- Jean Kerr, Head of Leadership and Team Intelligence at EMEAR Cisco – Fascinated by the role of leaders in the process of change, Jean has found her perfect role at Cisco. She works across teams to support them in playing to their strengths, in order to develop into more effective team members. She is fascinated by how automation is changing the workforce.
- Martin McDonnell, Chairman of the Soluis Group – Founding Soluis back in 2000, Martin now harnesses his visionary approach to lead the Group’s pioneering work in connecting the latest digital platforms and gaming technologies to the needs of different market sectors.
- Anne Anderson, Head of College of Social Sciences & Vice-Principal at the University of Glasgow – A Glasgow graduate and a psychologist interested in human communication and the impacts of new information and communication technologies. In 2008 she was appointed to the Council of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and has held various national roles, including Director of the £7 million People at the Centre of Information and Communication Technologies.
- Colin Birchenall, Chief Technology Officer of the new Local Government Digital Office & former TEDxGlasgow Speaker – Previously the lead architect for the £24 million Glasgow Future Cities Demonstrator, the UK’s largest smart city test-bed funded by Innovate UK, Colin now heads up technology in the Local Government Digital Office – a consortium of 27 Scottish local authorities designed to drive digital transformation within local government.
A massive thanks to everyone who came along, got involved (both in person and online), asked questions and contributed to the debate. Continue the conversation with us over on Twitter – we’d love to hear your thoughts!