By Jane Arnott, General Manager, Consulting and Business Services
We’ve seen a digital revolution in the last 20 years, and in 2017 we’re on the brink of a new wave of change. Automation is taking on more and more complex tasks. Driverless cars are on our doorstep, with large-scale trials currently underway in the United States. Robots have become commonplace in factories, and are starting to appear in our homes and offices. Automation is moving beyond repetitive manual tasks to white collar work, with lawyers, accountants, designers and more all being impacted now or in the near future. Technology change, as always, presents both challenges and opportunities.
The price of technology is tumbling
The falling price of technology is improving access to services. Mobile phones are being used throughout the developing world to bring banking and education to remote villages. In Australia, mobile phone apps like Ask Izzy and Hutt Street Centre’s Pathways app are improving access to support services for people living homeless.
Not for profits can access software applications for free (or nearly free) that are often as good or better than enterprise applications used by major corporations. In this fast evolving space, small organisations can have a competitive advantage, because the smaller you are, the easier it is to implement change.
Going digital can be a significant time saver, whether you’re using online forms, automating email reminders for your clients, or scanning receipts straight into your accounting software. Digital solutions are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with a range of providers launching chat bots that live inside messaging apps, allowing you to chat back and forth, just like you would with a human. Chat bots are being used to complement customer service teams – you can wait on hold to speak to customer service, or you can instantly chat to the chat bot and get your query answered faster. Bots are also being used to automate tasks that you would usually do yourself. There are already bots to order a pizza on Twitter by tweeting a particular emoji. There’s also a bot to buy the new handbag you’ve found on Instagram by posting a hashtag.
How Nadia is bringing bots to the NFP sector
The National Disability Insurance Agency is launching one of the first bots for the not for profit sector. The Nadia chat bot, voiced by actor Cate Blanchett, will be launching in mid-2017. You can chat with via Nadia via voice or text, and she is primed to answer a myriad of questions about the NDIS. The bot has been co-designed with people living with a disability, and has been built in line with international accessibility guidelines to accommodate various disabilities.
At what cost?
The reality is, automation often comes at a cost. One of the most controversial uses of automation in Australia is the Centrelink debt recovery program that has sent out more than 160,000 letters advising clients of debts based on automatic data matching of tax records. The Commonwealth Ombudsman is currently investigating the program, with reports of thousands of clients incorrectly advised that they owe a debt. It’s important to weigh up the costs and the impacts of implementing new technology, to determine whether a solution is right for your organisation.
The opportunities created by advanced technologies are substantial, but it’s also important to be mindful of the risks for your organisation, including potential impacts for your staff and your clients.
As technologies become more sophisticated, the range of tasks and roles that can be automated will increase substantially. Automation may mean that some tasks and roles can be completely automated, while others will still need to be performed by your staff. Tasks that are more transactional, analytical and predictable will be automated earlier, whereas tasks requiring emotional intelligence, human connection and empathy, creativity, problem-solving, and responding to unpredictable situations are less ripe for automation.
Automation creates opportunities for your organisation, and challenges for your workforce and your clients. It may ultimately mean that some of your staff need to reskill to take on new tasks, and some may eventually need to change jobs completely. You can help prepare your staff for these future changes by putting in place the right development opportunities now to prepare your staff to be adaptable and resilient before these big changes occur.
If the market adapts to these new technologies faster than you do, do you have a clear brand and unique service offering that will compel clients and donors to stay with you while you bring your technology up to speed?
If some of your services are at risk of being superseded by automation in the coming years, take a step back and look at the full range of strengths you bring to the table. What skills, intellectual property, and data do you have in your organisation that you could potentially spin out into new services that are less at risk from automation? What opportunities does automation bring that your organisation can leverage?
It’s also important to be aware of how automation will impact your clients, donors, volunteers, and key stakeholders. Do you have line of sight of what proportion of your clients and network are at risk of being impacted by automation, in 2017, and in the years to come? How could this impact your organisation? Will this increase demand for your services? Will this decrease availability of volunteers?
How to prepare
There are a number of practical steps you can take to prepare your organisation for future technologies. Consider:
- Are your policies and governance approaches future-proofed to allow you to adapt to new technology trends?
- Are your work processes standardised, documented, and consistently applied, so that you’re ready for automation as it becomes available?
- Are you still maintaining paper files, or have you digitised your document storage? Online document storage saves an incredible amount of time in finding and processing your data.
- Have you set up workflows so that things happen automatically, such as invoicing and payment processing, appointment reminders, and annual leave requests?
- Have you automated your financial reporting so that standard reports can be generated each month without manual workarounds?
- Have you tapped into marketing automation, such as tailored automated email responses after events or appointments, scheduled social media posts, and self-service support and forms via your website?
- Do you have a work from home policy and flexible work arrangements, including remote access to core systems and files using cloud-based solutions?
- Are you actively skilling up your workforce to learn new skills, and to be adaptable and resilient to change?
- How are you keeping up to speed with future trends not just from inside your sector but also outside the sector? Subscribing to relevant blogs, following influencers on LinkedIn and Twitter and YouTube, and making time to watch relevant TED talks with your team will all help keep your finger on the pulse.
If you keep your eye out for the changes around the corner, and prepare ahead, making it a smoother transition when the time comes, you’ll be much better placed to maximise the opportunities of new technologies and mitigate the associated risks. When the robots reach your doorstep, are you ready to welcome them in?
Phone: 1300 284 364