Point of View

Jobs of the Future: The Great Human Middleware Opportunity

October 20, 2017

Discussions around Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and a rise in the populace of virtual workers almost always correspond with the discussions regarding the loss of jobs and shrinking opportunities for humans. We analyzed the likely scenario in our recent report Impact of Automation and AI on Services Jobs, 2016-2022. We expect the total jobs across the globe to fall by 7.5% by 2022 but medium-skilled jobs will increase by 13% and high-skilled jobs will increase by 57% in the same period (see Exhibit 1).  But irrespective of numbers – how many jobs in how much time – the fact remains that the business, social, political, and industrial environment is changing, and with it, the nature of jobs. This presents a threat and an unmatched opportunity that HfS calls the “Great Human Middleware Opportunity.”


Exhibit 1: Total Impact of Automation and AI on IT/BPO Services Workers across the Global Services Industry, 2015-2022

Source: HfS Research, 2017


Right Brain over Left Brain


The left brain has been celebrated loudly over the past few decades. A degree in management of finance or science was the gateway to a rewarding career. However, in the near and emerging future we will take a right turn. Future jobs will stress the creative and analytical faculties of the right brain. With robots doing the common, repetitive, and linear tasks, the focus will shift to decision sciences – data interpretation, making the right judgment, and planning better strategies (see Exhibit 2).


Exhibit 2: Jobs of the Future Will Be Right Brained

Source: HfS Research, 2017


Skills and mindsets have long been geared toward figuring out what a problem is, but the focus is shifting to avoiding a problem from the outset,  figuring out how to respond to a problem, and identifying new opportunities. The impetus is on soft skills and right-brain thinking, which represents the larger shift – technology is now an enabler for people, helping them do what they do best. Simultaneously, the nature of work is changing as processes become more digitized. This may mean more screen time and less feet-on-the-street for some jobs, requiring a rethink on who are the best people for the job.


Changing Roles in Changed Times


Companies are automating straightforward, process-driven, repetitive tasks and freeing human bandwidth for better outcomes. As a result, analytics-, customer-, and business development-focused roles are evolving.


Analytics Focused

A digital workforce can easily manage data collection and process workflow. The human workforce can focus on analyzing data and making better decisions to improve business outcomes or shorten the process lifecycle. For example:

  • Finance and accounting analysts need to manage invoice processing workflows, conduct basic spending analytics, take second-line exception calls, and manage some basic business relationships with suppliers.
  • RPA managers are already in high demand. While automation tools manage routine workflows, the entire automation process requires scrutiny and foolproof analysis that RPA managers provide.
  • Another emerging area is cybersecurity and IoT/ engineering analytics. Billions of connected devices are generating terabytes of data, requiring specialists to analyze it. Differentiating this analysis from enterprise analytics is that it involves knowledge of engineering and physics in addition to simple correlation and data analysis. For example, a turbine behaving unexpectedly at high temperature requires engineering analysts to investigate the cause and its impact on operations and turbine design further.

Customer Focused

With machines managing the first line of queries, people can focus on managing customer relations better. For instance:

  • In retail banking, self-service IVR or chatbots handle most queries and processes. Bank branch staff can focus on managing virtual agent tickets effectively and making exception interventions when virtual agents are not serving the clients well. They would now be required to proactively contacting clients after cognitive interactions to ensure satisfied interactions.
  • Call center representatives who monitor virtual agent interactions are able to intervene when new business opportunities arise or negative customer sentiments are detected, ensuring maintenance of customer satisfaction levels.
  • Healthcare insurance operations employees can proactively reach out to providers and patients to resolve repeat exceptions, pended claims, and matches between procedure and treatment to the patient’s needs and network, reducing costly errors and rework.


Business Development Focused

The great human middleware opportunity lies in enriching customer interactions and using this rich relationship to forward the cause of business. Most front-line representatives will have the time and data to personalize offerings and suggest better product matches for customers:

  • Insurance agents might not just process claims, but can spend time upselling clients. Most claims processes are automated and front-line agents might have the best understanding of their client needs.
  • Pharmacy customer agents can not only contact customers to ensure orders are collected, but also advise clients about special offers and upsell related medical products that could be beneficial.


New roles are also emerging with the onset of new technologies. Virtual reality, for example, requires specialized content, and people need to create it. The increased hacking threat requires around-the-clock cyber security; hyper-usage of social media needs monitoring – no wonder Facebook recently put more than 3,000 workers on task to monitor hate speech! Traditional roles in HR, finance, and marketing are also evolving. Some changes that we can foresee are:

  • New roles in compliance to deal with customer advocacy, GDPR[1], and bias issues in algorithms and more.
  • New roles in HR dealing with interactions between digital and human workers.
  • New jobs in the public sector to manage regulations and maintain harmony between digital and human workforces.
  • A new set of data management roles – not just “Chief Data Officers”  but possibly best classed as data engineers.


Bottom Line: Automation and AI Allow Us to Put a Little Bit of Heart Back in Business


Automation opportunities are adding speed, accuracy, and agility to businesses and giving them an unbeatable cost advantage in the medium to long term. As such, it is becoming obsolete to maintain a large work force for front-end or data collection jobs. Automation and AI free up bandwidth clogged in repetitive and onerous backend functions so that organizations can repurpose it to building close client connections.


In a way, automation is creating occasions to bring back the human touch that has gone missing in recent years. Automation has taken away the need to invest in an extra pair of hands; now those busy hands can relax and rather start focusing on more analytical and strategic functions. Automation allows the mind to get some much-needed exercise and put a little bit of heart back in business.


Workers might be pleased to be relieved of repetitive process-oriented tasks and use the right side of their brain instead – recognizing data patterns, using intuition and people skills to make decisions, or working on custom building plans with clients.  Employers see the value in this switch of focus, too, as it leads to better service, better customer delivery, and customized relationships based on specific needs. The jobs of the future will be in functions where human touch is key. Jobs where robots couldn’t replace humans would also be jobs that could brighten our lives ­ – using our creative side and requiring imagination and artistry.


[1] GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was adopted by EU in April 2016 and will replace the current EU Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC

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