Aadesh Goyal is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Tata Communications. He has over 25 years of experience in P&L Management, Human Resources, Operations, Information Technology, Corporate Communications, and Program Management, and has held global leadership roles in these functions across multiple geographies. He has played a key role in the M&A and integration of many organizations across multiple countries.
In this exclusive interview, Goyal shares his insights on the opportunities that human-machine collaboration present, how this will determine the future of work and drive the digital revolution, and why it is imperative to train employees in new skills not only to be future relevant, but also to leverage such technologies for increased productivity and efficiency.
Will humans get replaced or shaped by AI?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is evolving rapidly and is bringing in a paradigm shift in the existing industry landscape. And although the anxiety levels related to automation threatening the existing workforce are intensifying, the outlook for the future is bright as AI will open more doors than it will close. A testimony to this is our recent report, ‘AI & The Future of Work’ — a pioneering study on how technologies such as AI and Machine Learning will augment rather than replace human intelligence. The so-called “singularity” approach is a hypothetical point in time when AI and robots will surpass humans in terms of intelligence and take over their jobs. This theory is somewhat speculative as AI is extremely far from achieving human-level general intelligence. Instead of fearing automation, it is imperative to train the employees in new skills not only to be future relevant, but also to leverage such technologies for increased productivity and efficiency. Technologies such as AI and machine learning will help eliminate mundane and repetitive tasks and give more visibility to the unique human traits like high-level thinking, strategizing, and innovating.
What do you think about the human-machine collaboration? How do you see the workforces or even businesses getting reinvented or reimagined in view of this?
“Multiplicity” is a realistic, inclusive alternative to singularity, one where humans and machines collaborate to innovate and respond rapidly to complex problems. The impact of technology on the workforce is not new. In the last few decades, we have witnessed the creation of scores of new jobs/roles that never existed and also saw the evolution of many existing roles. In the future too, business success will increasingly depend on humans and machines collaborating rather than competing with each other. Our recently commissioned ‘Cognitive Diversity: AI & The Future of Work Study’ is consistent with the theme of multiplicity and suggests that AI’s role in supporting humans at work could be truly transformational and can enhance cognitive diversity while combining categories of intelligence in new ways to benefit the workforce and the organizations.
To exploit technology’s maximum potential, businesses first need to make their employees understand why digitization is imperative and how it will enhance their work and result in greater organizational efficiency.
How do you see job roles shaping up after the third category of AI-based workforce getting emerged (the first two being full-time employees and gig workers)?
We foresee a shift in the core nature of the job roles. Roles will grow from being purely task-based to more strategic in nature, and will support maximum curiosity and innovative thinking. By automating the administrative tasks, higher-value roles will be available to enhance the employee experience and productivity. For example, a role could be scoped for a specific period of time allowing the employees to define their duration of service and chart out the next steps within the company. Instead of having a dedicated job role, they could be plotted across multiple projects concurrently, based on their skills and interests.
How do you see collaborative intelligence(human + machine) driving the digital revolution?
AI and robots can inspire us to think deeply about the kind of work we really want to do, how we can change the way we learn, and how we can embrace diversity to create a myriad of new partnerships. This positive view of automation focuses on how certain tasks can be replaced, freeing workers to focus on other tasks. AI has the potential to enhance unique human abilities like judgment, empathy, creativity, communication and insight. These are the qualities that machines are not close to acquiring but can support humans with effective data to take better decisions.
For instance, at Tata Communications, we have installed AI and machine learning tools for recruiting candidates for select roles that require systematic search or the right skill match. We are convinced that AI will serve as the assisting tool across all levels in the organization. For example, a CXO’s primary role is to make the right decision after considering all aspects of the situation, avoiding any kind of bias. An AI-based system could support this working as an ‘AI-based devil’s advocate’ that challenges decisions with insightful questions, exposing the CXO with alternative viewpoints, throwing ‘high-quality curve balls’ to enable more creative and critical thinking.
The impact of AI is no longer a theory; it is soon becoming a reality. The efficiencies and other economic advantages of machine intelligence will continue to disrupt all aspects of human work.
What does it take for organizations and workforces to accept technology or automation at the workplace?
Skills, culture, processes, and technology are the four key pillars for embracing automation at work. With rapidly growing technologies, the foremost requirement for organizations is to ensure that their employees have the right skills to embrace change and be future-ready. Accenture’s Research ‘Reworking the Revolution’ shows employers underestimate the willingness of employees to acquire the relevant skills and only 3 percent of executives say they intend to significantly increase investment in training and reskilling programs in the next three years. This poses the potential challenge of skills gap emerging that slows down the adoption of AI.
Awareness and understanding is the other key challenge. When preparing humans to work alongside AI, the natural inclination is to think of coding, data science and the STEM subjects. But the human skills like creativity, people management, entrepreneurialism will shape a significant proportion of the future workforce and these skills are what AI and machines are less effective at —there needs to be clarity on this across all levels of the organization.
Another challenge is the disparity in the views of decision-makers in the organization. Our ‘The Cycle of Progress’ study rings the warning bell for the board members and C-level executives who have drastically different views from the rest of their organizations with regards to the maturity of the implementation of new technologies. It was found that 41 percent of board members and 33 percent of C-level executives believe that they are leading their industry in adopting new technologies, in comparison to just 18 percent of Directors and 14 percent of department heads.
In your opinion, what is the best approach that organizations can use to adopt AI?
As businesses increasingly become more diverse and widespread, the adoption of new-age technologies will also gain momentum. Integration of AI into the workforce will require an upgradation of the skills set within the organization, because the way that people think will be just as important as the skills they have. This people-centric approach will encourage curiosity and experimentation both at a personal and organizational level. As AI frees up time from mundane tasks, stronger teams will be formed as employees will have more time to innovate new ways to add value, spend more time with colleagues, and build deeper relationships.
At Tata Communications, we have already commenced work on building a talent base that is equipped to be relevant and ready for future needs. We encourage a culture of learning and curiosity. Employees have the opportunity to learn new skills, upskill or learn supplementary skills through a broad range of training courses offered through various training partners.
We have also launched ‘Virtual Tata Communications Academy’ as a part of the company's skilling initiative to prepare the workforce for the skills of tomorrow. We are developing in-house content for niche certifications that suit the company's requirements and the changing processes. It has machine-learning algorithms that search the right content for employees, allowing them to build skills in the areas they want and start from the level where they are.