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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | June 25, 2017

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The new-age Learning & Development professional

The new-age Learning & Development professional
Ravichandran Venkataraman

The Learning & Development (L&D) function in an organisation typically sits with the HR function or in business and, in some cases, is stand-alone. L&D has focussed on Leadership Development, training methodologies, soft skills training, technical training and the like. All these have been focussed on developing people across the organisation. These L&D teams come with solid HR backgrounds, the ability to deal with people with ease, an understanding of how to do workshops in a non-threatening way, etc. They are essentially teams that can make a difference to the people in the organisation and come with skill sets for that.

Robotics and the large-scale automation of the services sector will begin to change all that. As more and more jobs get replaced by robots and other machines in the services sector, complexity has started setting in on how to deal with transactions that need discretion, knowledge of country legal requirements, or other specific knowledge that is not typically rules-based. One of the obstacles to automation is that most of the transactions are not same but similar. They are rules-based but most of the rules are in the heads of the people who do these transactions. Moreover, from my experience, over 60% of transactions need some amount of data manipulation, thought and experience to process. Apart from these, with most operations – process, processing and technology back offices – geographically dispersed, we have significantly increased risk, and there is a need for better business controls. So, how will these robots do that?

Some companies have begun to attack this problem using technology – the concept of machine learning. They try and pump as many types and volume of data and transactions through the system so that the machine starts learning by itself and over a period of time, will recognise and process many types of transactions. The same will apply to risk management as more and more algorithms are written for machines to handle the ingenuity of humans. Let me give you an example. Let us say that I can approve purchase orders of a maximum value of $10,000. The robot processing an order for $9,500 approved by me will let it through. We may need to teach the robot to also check how many orders have I signed off that are less than $10,000: are they to the same supplier or to group companies of the same supplier, etc. These additional checks and balances need to be built into the robots so that business controls are exercised simultaneously as the transactions are processed. These can be done with the help of machine learning programs.

It is stated that over 70% of global transactions will get automated over the next decade and wil be between machines. So, whilst the question arises as to what humans would do, I was thinking of what the L&D teams would do. They will have more machines to train than human beings. Given they are used to training humans, what skill sets would be needed for these teams to train machines?

The way things are going, it appears that the future L&D team members will be computer science engineers and those with a background of data sciences. These people, along with domain experts, will be writing up programs and algorithms and using completed transactions to train machines to understand and learn their jobs. The skill sets needed will be completely different – no more workshops, no more motivational quotes, no more warm up exercises, no more off-sites – all these will give way to these L&D teams sitting remotely and working through different business and/or transactional scenarios and training the robots to recognise patterns and do their work.

Of course, organisations will continue to train their employees and we will need the L&D teams as we see today – but, the numbers needed will be much less than they are today. Looks like it is time for our L&D friends to start learning computer programming, mathematics, statistics and pure sciences!

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