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Companies using AI will add more jobs than they cut

As companies embrace automation to stay competitive, these changes will eventually create more jobs than they destroy.

image of robots helping at home Javier Pierini / Getty Images

A few weeks ago the new U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took some public flak for suggesting, in response to an interviewer’s question, that he was “not worried at all” that artificial intelligence would threaten the jobs of human workers, because in his view it is “50 or 100 years away.”

It’s not clear why Mnuchin would say that, but with respect, I have to correct him. Here’s a more accurate timetable for the likely economic impact by AI: Two years at most.

The original question to Mnuchin was rooted in popular worries that AI will eliminate jobs in the near future. However there’s growing evidence that as companies embrace AI to stay competitive, which they will, in the end these changes will create more jobs than they destroy.

Earlier this year, ServiceNow commissioned a survey of senior executives at 1,874 companies of varying sizes across numerous industries in seven global markets. We asked their views on what automation might mean for their business in the next few years.

Nearly all of them — 86 percent — said that, by 2020, they expect to reach a breaking point where the pace of work is so fast that they will have no choice but to turn to intelligent automation to keep up.

That blinding acceleration in the pace of work is the primary force driving the shift to automation: About half of the companies we surveyed said it had increased by 20 percent or more in the last year alone. You can thank mobile devices for that.

These executives said they spent an average of 16 hours — two full days! — each week on administrative duties. What if you could get those hours back? That’s the economic opportunity. Nearly everyone in the survey said automating those routine but necessary tasks — HR processes, IT support and accounting -- would boost productivity and allow employees to be more creative.

We also found a strong connection between automation and revenue growth. We compared companies who had automated at least 70 percent of their business processes to companies who had automated less than 30 percent.

The difference was unambiguous. The highly automated group was six times more likely to have revenue growth of 15 percent a year or more than the less-automated group, and nearly twice as likely to exceed their internal financial goals.

We got curious about this connection between revenue growth and automating business processes, and took a closer look. We found that for a 10 percent increase in the number of processes automated, revenue growth increased a little less than 1 percent. That may seem marginal, but if you’re the CEO of a large public company, it can mean the difference between making a quarter or losing a job.

And when you consider that the average company in our sample had automated less than half of their processes, the potential growth is enormous. Automation is coming, like it or not, because the potential financial upside for these companies is too great to ignore.

What does it mean overall for those jobs everyone is worried about? Not what you’d expect: Most of the executives in our survey — 79 percent — say they expect the increase in automation to lead to the creation of new jobs.

And while it’s certain that some jobs will be affected, and some even eliminated, what will change is the mix of skills required for the new jobs that will rise in their place: Nearly every executive in the survey — 94 percent — agreed that when administrative tasks are automated, the demand for jobs that call for soft skills like collaboration, communication and creative problem-solving will grow.

So, as industries head down the path toward intelligent automation, there’s a good chance that the mundane and repetitive parts of your job that you dislike will go away, and you’ll spend more time doing the more challenging and rewarding work. Yes, it’s a change, but for most of us, it’s one worth embracing, and now.

Dave Wright is chief strategy officer at ServiceNow, and serves as the company’s evangelist for how to improve workplace productivity. He enables ServiceNow customers to eliminate their reliance on email, spreadsheets and other manual processes so their employees can work smarter, not harder. Prior to joining ServiceNow in December 2011, Wright spent more than six years with VMware as vice president of technical services for EMEA. From 2003 to 2005, he headed up the technical division for Northern and Southern Europe at Mercury Interactive. Reach him @TheWrightView.

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