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Self-service technologies, retrenchment, and a new future

By Isabelle Coetzee

Internet Solutions announced in July that it intends to simplify its business model through further enabling self-service technology, and reducing the number of hired staff members.   

This is part of its ongoing plan to implement more automation in the organisation. Internet Solutions intend to reassess the amount of investment placed in both its technology and people.

Kervin Pillay, chief technology officer at Internet Solutions, says that its business model, like so many others, is evolving to one that is more intelligent and software defined.

“Repetitive tasks, which can be done faster and more effectively by a machine, will be automated, allowing us more time to focus on innovation and development,” says Pillay.

He explains that the automation includes the analysis and prediction of client needs, which will be done by machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“The idea is to design infrastructure that’s self-driving and self-healing,” he adds.

Leaving humans behind?

Pillay believes it’s possible to re-skill certain staff members who will be made redundant as a result of self-service technology.

For example, he points out that the work of network engineers may become automated, but that their role in the workplace could evolve towards more relevant security skills. 

In addition, he believes experienced staff members, whose roles might be made redundant, will have the skills to help train the machines and supervise the algorithms.

“This is an example of what work in the future might look like, where staff members will have to ensure machines have ‘learnt’ correctly,” says Pillay.

Other examples of future work include product and technology innovation, and the curation of experiences and products for clients. 

The value of human beings

Peter Castleden, CEO of IndieFin, a new self-service insurance provider, believes there’s value in both self-service technology and human beings.  

At IndieFin, getting an insurance quote, being underwritten, and issuing an insurance policy can be done without human intervention in as little as five to ten minutes.

However, Castleden believes people are still crucial when it comes to providing assistance, advice, comfort, and trust.

“In other words, we want to use technology where it’s most efficient to do so, but we still want people to be involved where they add the most value to our clients,” says Castleden.

Although he intends to hire people to keep the human touch in the business, he believes technology may still mean that fewer people will be required to do the same thing.

This can be done by providing people with better technology and tools so that they can help more clients than before.

What’s standing in the way?

Castleden points out that there are four main barriers between self-service technology and South Africans. These are:

  • The high cost of data
  • Good quality devices to access the services from
  • Being able to trust a machine; distinguishing between self-service and scams
  • The complexity of self-service technology

To help overcome these barriers, IndieFin opened an experimental, physical store in Soweto, which provides devices, data, and trained staff to make all of those barriers redundant.

“It's still largely set up so that our clients can help themselves, but the staff are there to guide them through any complexity, using devices and data we provide,” says Castleden.

How to prepare for the future?

Assuming things don't change significantly, Castleden believes the most prized skills will remain those associated with real problem solving, creative skills, and building.

If job titles had to be put to these, it would include product designers, creatives, and software engineers. 

“Any job that requires a unique, once-off request or real human empathy, means a creative and intuitive person will continue to shine in the workplace,” says Castleden.

Pillay recommends schools promote the freedom to supplement curriculum-based education with technology research, and encourage the exploration of new technologies.

“In doing this, learners can effectively counteract any ‘lag’ between the school curriculum and the rapidly evolving technology environment,” says Pillay.

He believes online resources, like the free courses offered at MOOC, should be pursued by learners outside school, and by anyone else who would like to stay updated with the latest trends.

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