Digitalization and automation: some very good news for employment!
Wednesday 24 july 2019
Digitalization is a phenomenon that can be found in all layers of our economic fabric, and in particular in the maintenance service sector, as we will see in this article. In common thought, digitalization is often synonymous of job destruction, and there are rumours that robots will soon replace human work everywhere. But should we totally fear this digital revolution in our economy? It turns out that despite these assumptions, it is used more to help humans be more effective than to replace them altogether. All we must do is choose the right world of operation, and the technology will help us to be smarter.
Is this concern about technology recent? Not really. Thus, as early as 1788 in Normandy, 2000 workers burned a cotton spinning machine and, a few years later, in 1811, it was at the heart of the English industrial revolution that the Luddism movement broke out. The Luddites were workers fighting against factories that started using machines, which threatened to put them out of work. These craftsmen had organized demonstrations, revolts and destruction of equipment. This fear of "technological unemployment", as described by Keynes, has thus been latent for 250 years while during this period the capitalist economy has demonstrated its ability to generate a considerable number of new jobs in a context of mechanization and massive scientific and technological progress.
Automation, a must in the digital age
It is absolutely correct to state that the service industries will be impacted by digitalization. According to a McKinsey report on digitalization and its effect on jobs worldwide, it is observed that among the jobs most affected by digitalization in developed countries, there are construction machinery and equipment operators, as well as office workers, such as payroll managers and administrative employees. If there is a loss of some jobs positions that require few qualifications, these comments need to be qualified, as we will see later.
This negative first approach to "4th industrialisation", with the introduction in all sectors of robotization, digitalization, automation and algorithms that could eventually replace the work done by a human being, makes it a threat. However, a more detailed assessment shows that through faster algorithms, more efficient, delays will be reduced, errors due to any devolution eliminated, and productivity will increase drastically, creating added value and wealth, and this can only be done by maintaining a human presence in companies in order to associate the machine with people.
Thereupon, aeronautical maintenance has undergone a major transformation by gradually becoming robotized. The aim was to improve aircraft inspections and traceability, by overcoming one of the main limitations of human beings: tiredness and deconcentration. Repetitive and tiring tasks naturally lead to scattering, to the desire to turn away from work and to a lack of motivation. Algorithms have the advantage of being able to perform repetitive automated actions without any alteration of the activity. This results in increased reliability and a perfect reiteration of inspections. As a result, faster maintenance operations make it possible to optimize aircraft availability, reduce maintenance operating costs and ensure better safety for aircraft passengers. Machines also have an infinite capacity to process massive volumes of information and data very quickly where human beings have only limited potential.
Considering synergy with technology rather than replacing human labour
Thus, it would not be accurate to limit ourselves to saying that digitalization is only a replacement of the human being within productive entities as in our previous example. Indeed, it can often be coordinated with its work, optimize it and advance it rather than replace it.
It is a proven fact that when it comes to sequencing identical tasks and centralizing information, the machine prevails. However, an algorithm does not have the will, discernment or decision-making capacity, which makes the presence of a human being at the beginning of the chain essential for productive action. In addition, the machine cannot perform precise manual movements as maintenance providers do when repairing a machine or system. It appears that the combination of the reflective capacities of the human being and the activity of the machine therefore constitutes the apogee of productive performance.
For example, a software used by a service provider makes his work more efficient, faster and smarter. This is the case of CMMS (Computer Assisted Maintenance Management) such as Yuman which, instead of replacing maintenance service providers, considerably facilitates their task and allows them to carry out interventions more quickly. It leads to better communication between technicians and the back office and with the customer as well. Applications that therefore make work more humane and less time-consuming, that follow the wave of digitalization and accompany men in this new era without excluding him. Compared to our example of aeronautical maintenance, creating software to assist the agents concerned would have made their work more efficient, less tiring and would have reduced the risk of them making mistakes, a risk that is never zero even with a robot.
The jobs destroyed during this digitalization are synonymous of "creative destruction", according to the Schumpeterian expression, which marks the transition from an old mode of production to a new way of working. Indeed, the wave of digitalization is bringing about changes that will inevitably change our work and production system. This impulse is a source of renewal to which we must adapt, and using software is a good way to maintain both human intelligence and technological efficiency.
Destruction of jobs to be put into perspective
Moreover, let’s not forget that the human being remains at the heart of this digitalization. More digital means an increased need for human beings who master it, and therefore need for new skills. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), it is estimated that by 2022, new technologies will create more jobs than they destroy. 58 million more, according to projections by the foundation, which meets every year in Davos.
Digital technology, which is booming, has made possible to develop new activities in the same way as all the professions linked to new information technologies, such as software development, with demand currently far outstripping supply, labour shortages and rapidly growing wages. Like Yuman in the maintenance ecosystem, many digital platforms are emerging in all economic sectors and for all media: tablet, smartphone, computer... Web languages have evolved to enable the development of rich, complex applications, equipped with artificial intelligence and which have now relegated static websites, non-adaptive and client server business solutions closed on themselves to the status of antiques. Software developers mastering these latest generation technologies are therefore on the rise in our digital age.
The digital age makes jobs disappear, not work. The coordination, association and synergy of human forces with those software and robotic systems are a source of new skills and new wealth that must benefit society as a whole. As Steve Jobs observed 35 years ago when he compared the computer to a well-known tool that transports us and allows us to gain speed, the bike: "The computer is the most remarkable tool that we've ever come up with. It's the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Try to ride a bike with no one on it!
Maintenance service providers, take your chance to dive into the digital smart by taking advantage of a free trial of our CMMS to get the best of our intervention and maintenance management software.
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