To ensure happier and more productive employees, businesses need to shift from a model of "people supported by technology" to one of "technology supported by people" says a recent study by KPMG.

Intelligent automation is poised to digitally transform companies and that will impact on employees' roles and the findings suggest that many businesses are under-prepared.

"Many traditional businesses with legacy approaches risk falling behind digital-first companies if they stay with the status quo," says Cliff Justice leader of cognitive automation initiatives at KPMG.

"It takes a comprehensive transformation of business and operating models to compete in their own market at the level at which a Tesla or Amazon do in theirs."

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IA includes artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic technology that can make decisions, interact and learn at a human-like level. It was recently the province of sci-fi but is now a part of everyday life — think virtual bank assistants and medical scans reviewed by trained algorithms.

Researchers interviewed 80 business executives from multiple industries across North America, Western Europe and the Asia Pacific region about their experiences in adopting IA and their future outlooks.

"The way we organise and do business is changing due to IA and other digital disruption," says professor Ilan Oshri from the University of Auckland Business School who participated in the study.

"Piecemeal attempts to introduce IA as 'add-ons' or replacements for existing processes just won't cut it. Firms need to consider two dimensions when seeking intelligent automation solutions: their business models and their data structure."

He says that companies that have not yet embarked on digital transformation are unlikely to significantly benefit from the wave of IA solutions; however, all is not lost.

"By considering a gradual shift to digital platforms as a service, even firms with legacy systems can still achieve significant transformation in terms of becoming a data-driven business and an innovative business model venture."

Professor Oshi believes though it is still unclear how society will be affected by automation and IA indications suggest that technology is advancing faster than ethical concerns.

"Business needs are challenging traditional employment conventions," he says. "It is the responsibility of academics, practitioners and policymakers to actively shape the new reality created by intelligent automation."

The authors of the study believe companies will need to set up 'centres of excellence' to upskill employees and recruit specialists, and some job losses are inevitable.

Despite potential job losses there are benefits for employees — freeing them from routine tasks and encouraging them to take on more strategic, significant work.

"Ultimately, humans and virtual robots will work side by side," says the report's authors.

But flesh and blood workers have the advantage over their IA counterparts in one area. The report states that while robots will be able to analyse data and answer questions, often more efficiently than humans what robots won't be able to do is define the questions and problems that need to be solved or prioritise solutions.

Is your business ready for IA?

■ The use of IA is transformative and built on the use of new machines and data sources. As a result, companies will need entirely new blueprints and architectures for operating models and business models.

■ Develop solid business cases to ensure investment value and maintain expectations between deployment promises and investment capacity.

■ Think about ways to disrupt business from within while maintaining uninterrupted business operations.

■ IA readiness is low, with nearly two-thirds of respondents indicating a lack of in-house talent and half struggling to define clear goals and objectives for IA.

■ Most organisations are in the early stages of knowing where to prioritise deployment.

■ Many respondents expect to increase investment in IA significantly over the next five years, but report authors doubt this will be enough.

■ By the turn of the next decade, about one third of jobs will be impacted by IA.

source KPMG