Technology: are we moving towards a future without employees?

By 2 October, 2014Blog
Technology: are we moving towards a future without employees?

By Lauri Löfveblad

As a frequent traveler, I have been thinking lately about the drastic changes that have taken place over the last ten years in the process of going from one country to another.

Not so long ago, travel by plane used to involve a visit to a travel agency or at least a call to a travel agent to find out the available options and prices. Then, going out to the airport, perhaps by using the local metro if, for example, you are in Copenhagen, and then going through the process of checking in at a counter and getting a boarding card before leaving luggage to be taken care of.

At many airports there was also one more step of emigration/Immigration where you had to show your passport and perhaps also answer some questions, and usually somewhere along this chain was a visit to an exchange desk to get some local currency for the destination of the travel.

All in all, a lot of services, and at each of these employees tasked with helping you with some specific action needed.

Today we usually book the flight from home or through a mobile app while on the run. The metro to the Copenhagen airport is automated and driven by a central computer from somewhere else, and when arriving at the airport we already have received the boarding card through the mail and can scan and drop of our luggage at a self-service counter and proceed directly to security and boarding.

For most countries in Europe there is no longer any need for emigration due to the Schengen agreement, but for other countries there is a again a self-service emigration counter where you scan your own passport and a camera automatically compares the persons face with the image stored on the passport to verify the details.

As with the Schengen for currency, there is the Euro, but if another currency is needed we can easily withdraw it from an ATM at the destination, again eliminating the need for physical services and employees.

So of this once large chain we are more or less only left with the security check and then on the plane the stewardess and the pilots, the latter of which we already have the technology available to automate and eliminate as with the metro but here it is probably a bit more sensitive.

Gone are the travel agents, exchange agents, check in personnel and metro drivers.

And the travel industry is not the only one where technology, and in particular IT, is enabling significant improvements in efficiency; eliminating whole categories of job descriptions as functions and services move to 24/7 automation in industries, or self-service solutions in services, which give better efficiency and availability to users and reduce costs across the production chains.

Many scholars lately predict that up to 50 per cent of all current manual tasks providing occupations and employment to billions of people will be taken over by IT systems and robots in the near future.


So how does this connect to market research?

With a structure that is often not much more efficient than the travel industry, the production of market research and collection of data based insights has been ripe for change for a long time.

It has been an industry of niche providers of specialized services often based on personal relationships and connections, with layer on layer of providers interacting to deliver a single project to an end user where few could oversee and grasp a whole project and know all sub-contractors involved, as these often in turn commissioned subcontractors of their own.

Based on the needs that that this industry structure has created, most large providers involved have built up large hubs of staff in low cost countries to try to manage all those manual tasks and steps of supervision, or in most cases, opt to completely give up this administration and simply purchase a packaged result from one of the firms that are specialized in data collection. You could compare them to the full service travel agent of the past who could call all airlines and hotels to find out pricing and then set you up with a reasonable combination package, at a markup of course.

We launched Cint about 10 years ago with the idea of eliminating the need for all these manual steps in the market research and panel industry and to give users full transparency and access to create their own packages to suit the need of their project and budget, without having to know each local provider personally and have a large administration hub in India, Romania or similar.

As our platform has evolved and the adoption of self service solutions in general has taken hold in most industries we are now also rapidly seeing how it is seeping into market research as more and more companies are realizing that data and insights are also an industry and as such has to achieve competitive, lean and efficient production chains as good models and high quality alone won’t suffice in a competitive environment.

For consumers of research this is of course good as they in the future will be able to buy the same level of quality but at lower costs due to increased efficiency and fewer middle men.

Does this then mean that employees at market research and panel firms will lose their jobs as the metro drivers, travel agents and bank office staff?

Some categories such as quotation teams, feasibility teams, coordination offices and basic data crunching will definitely see significantly reduced need and opportunities in the years to come.

What has been an interesting development in other industries which have been under more pressure to adopt these trends and become more efficient has been that high value contributing positions higher up in the chain tend to increase as the reduced cost to clients allow for a greater consumption of these services and new buyers entering the market. Two good examples is the explosion in travel and stock market trading as transaction costs and inefficiencies have been reduced.

So my advice for anyone in a job that can easily be replaced by a robot or computer would be to think now about what value they contribute to the end client and how they can move up in the value chain and maximize it through creativity or services. This will make it harder to automate as no one can compete on efficiency or speed with robots or computer algorithms, but fortunately, we as humans can still be smarter and more intuitive and creative.


Some interesting articles on the topic:

MIT Technology review – How technology is destroying jobs

The Atlantic – What Jobs will the robots take

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