Augmented Workflows: When AI and humans collaborate
Augmented Workflows is one of five trends identified by the Communications Trend Radar 2023. It focuses on a future of work where humans and artificial intelligence (AI) interoperate and how organizations can prepare for it. The rise of ChatGPT is the most prominent example of this development.
Multiple challenges must be solved in this context – ranging from ethical questions to work processes and people development. Communication leaders should reflect on how AI-based technologies can (or should) augment human workers‘ practices and subsequently modify communication unit workflows.
Artificial intelligence is the future of (knowledge) work
Artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably pop up when thinking about the future of work. While robots taking over the planet will hopefully remain science fiction, many AI applications are already part of our everyday life. Be it in search engine rankings, the automatic prioritization of emails, or composing texts with ChatGPT.
AI promises to improve productivity by performing routine tasks, reducing or eliminating human error, and generating insights that enhance the quality of decisions.
Especially in knowledge work (i.e., work that relies on the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge), a realistic scenario is that AI-based technologies will augment rather than replace human workers. That means that AI-based technologies will not completely take over people’s tasks but will collaborate closely with human workers.
The trend Augmented Workflows focuses on a future of work characterized by the collaboration of humans and AI-based technologies, which changes the scope, focus, or outcome of task accomplishments and how organizations deal with it.
AI changes the way we interact with technology
Technology is no longer just a tool applied by a human to accomplish a certain task or goal. Instead, AI-based technology can now be responsive to the environment. It constantly monitors information from the environment (e.g., acoustic or visual information) and responds autonomously to it. Examples are the security software in a car or intelligent speakers listening for their “wake word” (e.g., “Hey Siri”).
Furthermore, new self-learning AI-based technologies are contextual and adaptive. This means that the functionality of a system will evolve during use.
But as AI-based technologies do not explain their decisions or behavior to humans, it isn’t easy to understand how they work and why a decision was taken. This could lead to skepticism regarding AI recommendations or even to faulty decisions remaining undetected.
Five ways how corp comms can augment workflows with AI
The following examples illustrate possible communication tasks that could be augmented by AI-based technologies and help to create business value:
- Selection, modification, creation, and personalization of text and multimedia content, e.g., translating or correcting texts, generating or modifying images and videos (e.g., ChatGPT, DALL-E)
- Handling stakeholder requests, e.g., chatbots to answer questions in marketing or employee communications
- Monitoring & evaluating conversations on digital platforms through social listening, e.g., identifying central actors or networks, key topics, or sentiment based on social media data
- Improving processes and management activities, e.g., prioritizing tasks or incoming e-mails, identifying promising candidates for job vacancies through social media search and application analysis
- Mandatory reporting, e.g., automated creation of standardized financial reports or sustainability reports
Recommendations for communication professionals
Communication leaders need to balance the opportunities and risks that AI-based technologies offer for their organization, its stakeholders, and the business model of the communication department. Only then can they decide how best to apply AI within their organization and team.
- Identify the most promising use cases for augmenting workflows with AI-based technologies, determine the necessary skillsets, and develop staff competencies.
- Evaluate the impact of augmented workflows on communication content: AI-based technologies can augment the identification of stakeholder interests, the selection and creation of messages, the handling of stakeholder requests, and much more. Here, the suggestions made by AI are likely to influence what, how, and where content is communicated. Communication leaders should therefore evaluate how the outcomes of internal workflows will change due to intensified augmentation.
- Prepare for challenges due to shifts in agency: The increasing relevance of non-human agency, which is based on workflows modified with AI-based technologies, will raise new challenges, especially regarding accountability for content.
- Consider the “human factor” in augmented workflows: Introducing AI-based systems will not leave human workers unaffected. Leaders should try to understand what competencies or tasks employees view as integral to their professional identity. This will help them to be mindful of potential adverse effects for individuals, teams, and the organization (e.g., feeling unmotivated and deskilled) when augmenting these integral elements with AI.
About the study
For the third time, the Academic Society for Management & Communication presented the Communications Trend Radar – an interdisciplinary and scientific study on the most important trends that will influence communication management in the near future.
The study analyzes changes in society, management, and technology. For 2023, the research team identified the trends of State Revival, Scarcity Management, Unimagination, Augmented Workflows, and Parallel Worlds.
These trends were selected and scored on a scientifically sound basis, developed by a research team at Leipzig University and the University of Potsdam (led by Professors Stefan Stieglitz from Business Information Systems and Ansgar Zerfass from Communication Management). More than 100 sources from research and practice were included. The study aims to support communication managers in setting the course and guiding decisions.