Article: Augment Your Workforce, Don't Automate Them

By The Business Analyst Team

The composite delamination problem was perplexing...

Something was still causing production defects and it wasn’t clear yet what it was. After two rounds of insight-driven improvement, things were moving in the right direction. Yet variability in raw materials meant they were chasing a moving target. Even so, their new approach had already increased their production success rate from 50% to close to 70%. When you’re building specialized parts for jet engines, a 20% success improvement is huge deal. The reduction in scrap had already saved the company millions. But the team knew there was more work needed to reach and then maintain their 90% success target.

“I have an idea.”

The woman who spoke up was a quiet woman in her early forties. She wasn’t an executive or an engineer. In fact, as a manager of just one of many steps in the production line, she was perhaps the least expected to come up with a breakthrough. Yet, once she explained her idea and the team ran the numbers, it checked out. The engineers gave their thumbs up. Management signed off.

Combined with other insights from the same meeting, this small temperature change was rolled out to the live production system within days. After two weeks the results were overwhelmingly positive. By the end of the month, the team knew they had made another leap forward. The 90% quality target that had seemed like sheer fantasy only two months ago was now well within sight.

How did this happen? What “new approach” enabled such a dramatic change in production quality?

The answer may surprise you.

While business pundits continue to debate whether or not artificial intelligence-driven automation will steal human jobs, a potentially bigger shift is already underway. Artificial Intelligence is being combined with other innovative technologies to create a new kind of AI called Augmented Intelligence. And it’s this game changing approach that is enabling the kind of critical breakthroughs described above.

According to Augustin Huret, founder and CEO of Mondobrain, augmented Intelligence is different than automation in that it doesn’t replace people, it empowers them. “Workers across the enterprise represent tremendous expertise and untapped creativity to solve problems. Yet as humans, we all have a hard time solving complex problems that contain more than three or four variables. With augmented intelligence, we are able to match our domain expertise and creativity with the technology’s ability to analyze nearly unlimited scenarios.”

In fact, the company defines Enterprise Augmented Intelligence (EAI) as the natural intersection of artificial intelligence, human intelligence, and the ability to work with others to gain collective intelligence. And while in theory this sounds like Star Trek: The Next Generation meets Philip K. Dick, in reality it simply just works.

It’s also interesting to note how EAI is being used across organizations. Whereas traditional AI projects are usually focused on individual problems that can take massive investment in time and resources, EAI is able to go beyond individual issues to play a critical role in ongoing KPI management.

This works from a technology standpoint since Mondobrain is able to elegantly bypass key friction points such as customized neural networks or the requirement of massive amounts of labeled historical data. Thus, organizations are more able to leverage the power of augmented intelligence at each point where the business needs to make better decisions.

KPI management is central to EAI because by definition, KPI’s are measurable. And the most important KPI’s are the ones your teams can impact by making the right decisions. By working with KPI data, EAI enables you to better understand which variables are most tied to impacting performance in various scenarios, and why. Combining prescriptive insights with human and collective intelligence, teams using EAI are able to determine the best path forward with much higher levels of precision.

This is why you will be hearing more and more success stories of organizations using EAI to optimize performance. Yes, jet engine manufacturing teams are using EAI to dramatically improve quality. But account managers are proactively reducing churn. Marketing teams are hitting record levels of performance by optimizing their marketing mix. HR teams are optimizing resource planning and recruiting processes. The list will continue to go on and on.

Innovation can (and should) come from anywhere.

But it’s not just what companies are doing with EAI that’s so disruptive. It’s also who is involved. Traditionally, great ideas were the province of top managers, while middle management and line workers were expected to execute against that direction. Today, this paradigm is being upended where the responsibility of top management is to set the topline vision and to provide the organization with the decision making framework to leverage their know-how and creativity to drive innovation.

As we drilled a bit deeper into our original manufacturing example, we were surprised to learn more about the human dynamic that lead to the break though. With EAI, team members are able to put their ideas to the test. Any suggestion is able to be assessed with near immediate, quantifiable results. In practice, this becomes a great equalizer when it comes to where the ideas come from. Impressive titles and impassioned speeches don’t lend nearly as much credence to an idea as quantifiable, prescriptive insights. It was this context that gave the “quiet” line manager the confidence to bring forward her idea. For the team, that confidence translated into an incremental 10% jump in quality. Within the two months following, they continued to iterate until they reached their audacious 90% goal. Now they are working together to manage supply side variability in order maintain their rate.

It’s true that AI is going to dramatically reshape business as we know it, but in a different way than many expect. Rather than turning employees into replaceable commodities, EAI is unlocking their ability to make far greater impact on the company’s performance.