People will always remain essential in the future of work.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Daniel Pullen, Chief Automation Officer, CiGen.

Daniel Pullen is a highly experienced Chief Automation Officer, helping all CiGen’s customers to unlock the power of intelligent automation.

Daniel leads the design and implementation of automation programs across a vast range of sectors including financial services, insurance, superannuation, IT, telecommunications, government, utilities and energy, supply chain and logistics, healthcare, and retail.

Before co-founding CiGen, he led operations for Dineamic, MSCI Barra in the UK, Ladbrokes and was a product, business and equities analyst for NAB, HSBC and Balanced Equity.

Daniel holds a Bachelor of Commerce, (Hons) Finance from Melbourne University.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

Narrowing it down to only two life experiences is difficult. However, for me, the two experiences that has shaped me the most, would have to be:

  1. When my wife and I took the plunge and moved to London for a few years back in 2007. We didn’t have any family in London, so it was just the two of us. This experience helped me build resilience, knowing that even though my core family members were on the other side of the world, I could still achieve great things.
  2. The second was when I became a father. The day my first child was born, it was like a switch flicked inside me, and my concept of what was important and why I did what I did shifted. I was no longer doing what I do for myself and my wife, it was now all about my children. Taking this one step further, this is a key element to founding CiGen with my younger brother and father. Our father founded CiGen for his two sons, while my brother and I founded it for our children and families — a true generational legacy business.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

Digital transformation, that embraces intelligent automation, is transforming what we do at work, how we do our work and the relationships we have. When we look back at how we worked in 2019, it was very different to what we experience today. Intelligent automation will continue that change, making us better at our jobs and more satisfied with our work while delivering great value to organisations.

There’s no doubt that automation will change how we work over the next 10–15 years. We’ve seen that repeated countless times throughout human history. But humans have never stopped working. We may do different things but even the most intelligent automation requires humans to create the algorithms, to manage the exceptions, and solve new problems in creative ways.

Automation is great at taking a known and repeatable process that doesn’t change, and running it over and over again. And while that makes it a great companion that complements someone’s work, it can never replace the essential need for human beings.

People are amazing problem solvers. They use insight and experience and approach situations from different perspectives. Once we solve a problem, and know the solution can be applied repetitively to solve the same problem, we can leverage automation. When automation encounters something unexpected and fails, a person needs to look at what happened, analyse the situation and come up with a new solution or handle the exception. Automation can’t analyse the situation, form a solution and overcome the obstacle.

When you think about it — automation is a solution to common and relative tasks. People have struggled with boredom at work and spent significant portions of their days doing monotonous tasks that are the same day in, day out. The response to solving the problem of boring and repetitive work is automation.

We predict that the future of work will be from anywhere. Flexible working, remote and hybrid is here to stay and automation can help organisations remove boring, dull and repetitive work and free up their people to enjoy a better work/life balance focused on more meaningful work.

Organisations will also invest more in training and developing people, in the human skills that robots can’t replicate. Training and development of people in human skills (creativity, problem solving, collaboration, innovation) that robots can never replicate will increase in 2022 and beyond.

Additionally, we anticipate huge shifts in the way people acquire tech skills. Rather than the traditional monolithic model which involved months or years of courses, we see the future being much more incremental. People will learn new skills and undertake more complex tasks as simpler tasks are automated.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

A great example we can offer is our work recently with Equity Trustees. This 130 year old heritage brand, that started in the days of horse and carts, is now leveraging the power of intelligent automation to dramatically improve customer service and business processes.

Equity Trustees has been partnering with CiGen, one of the first companies to bring robotic process automation (RPA) to organisations in Australia, for almost three years to automate a wide range of processes across reporting, trading in managed funds, data analysis and accounts payable and receivable.

When the pandemic hit and Equity Trustees had to pivot to remote working, the operations team had certain tasks that had to be executed manually, which meant if they weren’t quickly automated, that people were unable to work from home effectively and efficiently.

“Using RPA technology, we were able to quickly automate key pieces of work so that our operations team could execute them remotely with greatly reduced manual effort. For our people working from home during lockdowns, using intelligent automation to alleviate some of these burdens has improved job satisfaction, wellbeing, reduced stress and boosted productivity. They are free to focus on higher value tasks, such as resolving errors and queries, spending more time serving our customers and being freed to focus more on new innovations,” explains Phing Lee, Chief Technology Officer, Equity Trustees.

Equity Trustees has leveraged the power of automation, with the help of CiGen, to deliver improved client outcomes. An example of this was when RPA was implemented to help provide philanthropic trust grant managers and co-trustees reporting on the distribution of grant funding.

“In the past, when our grant managers wanted to see how much money was available to grant to charitable causes on any given day, being dependent on a myriad of factors such as funds under investment, income expected from those investments, grants already committed and so forth, it would take days of manual processing across the entirety of Equity Trustees portfolio. With RPA technology, Equity Trustees is now able to ensure the analysis runs continuously, cross checks information from multiple sources and provides real-time insights, offering unparalleled speed and accuracy and freeing our people from time consuming data crunching and reporting,” he says.

Equity Trustees have also used intelligent automation to speed up processing of market trades on behalf of clients and beneficiaries, reconciliations, and accounts payable services, ensuring less manual effort is required with greater accuracy. “We can now process hundreds of trade instructions in a matter of minutes, at a scale that was never possible before. Our people have been relieved of time consuming, monotonous tasks so they can focus on higher value activities and provide enhanced customer service,” says Phing.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

RPA puts tools in the hands of businesses of all sizes and allows them to automate processes and tasks without writing software code. Using drag-and-drop tools, you can automate tasks such as bank reconciliation. It’s not only a huge time saver but can reduce accounting errors and ensure you don’t break any tax or other rules. And because software is doing the work, you reduce the risk of sensitive data being accessed by the wrong person.

Automation can help businesses be even more attractive to new hires by reducing the number of boring, repetitive and highly manual tasks required in a role. Automation can free lean teams to focus on higher value, more meaningful and interesting work and can spend more time delighting customers and generating innovative ideas.

Attracting new talent is a major challenge. But automation can eliminate boring tasks and offer new hires ongoing flexibility and remote working arrangements. By digitally transforming and automating processes, you can create happy staff who enjoy their work, are passionate about your business’s vision, and are freed from monotonous tasks that sap their energy. They will enjoy improved workplace wellbeing, will be more loyal and will help you hit growth targets much faster.

Businesses in Australia are increasingly harnessing service providers that deliver intelligent automation using the cloud and SaaS with a ‘per use’ pricing model that negates the need for up front capital investment in hardware or software licenses, or the need to increase headcount.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

Please refer to responses above and the example of Equity Trustees during the pandemic.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

We need to overcome the fear that robots will take people’s jobs.

Over the last few years, there’s been a common theme running through many discussions about automation that focuses on how many jobs will be lost. But that view is skewed by a number of factors and it grossly understates what humans bring to their work and how intelligent automation really is. Automation may help to do things right but we need people to ensure it does the right things.

In 2013 Professor Michael Osborne and Dr Carl Benedikt Frey from the The Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford released research into the future of jobs in the United States of America. A single ‘fact’ was distilled from their research. Almost half of jobs in the USA “are at risk of automation”. Since then, a number of other studies have been published pointing to vastly different outcomes.

The problem is that while many tasks can be automated, jobs are much more than just tasks. It takes human intelligence to know what tasks to perform, what order to perform them, how to deal with unexpected challenges and how to be creative.

Osbornbe and Frey noted five years after their initial paper was published that their study and almost all those that preceded and followed it omitted one crucial detail; time. No one could accurately predict how long it might take for software to automate routine tasks. Nor did the studies consider that as people were freed from repeatable tasks that they could learn new skills and be engaged in other activities.

So, while the headline painted a scary picture, it was a superficial reading of a study that painted an incomplete picture. Indeed, many other researchers, using the same pool of data used in the Oxford study, found that perhaps just 14% of jobs were at risk. The difference in the outcomes from the same pool of data stems from the analysis. Osbornbe and Frey rated jobs with either a 1 or 0 depending on if the job could “be performed by state of the art computer-controlled equipment”. It then relied on what the researchers found were “the occupations about which we were most confident”. And that led to a count of just 70 jobs.

If we think about the millions of different jobs people do — 70 is a small sample upon which to predict the future of all jobs. It’s also important to note that many jobs consist of many different tasks that may be automatable to different degrees.

The sort of revolution that automation will bring, over time, to workplaces is not new. Electricity and the internal combustion engines made thousands of jobs redundant a little over a century ago. Australia employs about 2% of its workforce in agriculture, down from almost half the workforce at the start of the 20th century. Yet, our national unemployment rate has remained steady at around 5% for many years despite the disruptions brought by computerisation, automation and other technologies.

Workplace revolutions that leverage new technology do not happen overnight. And while there is disruption, people do learn new skills and take up new jobs. There is nothing to suggest that increased use of automation in workplaces won’t result in the same thing.

With workplace automation, using software robots does require a level of intelligence to automate tasks within departments such as AP, AR, sales, operation, etc, or as application bridges (collecting, moving and collating data between discrete applications). The software robot needs to ‘know’ where the data is and how to perform some sort of calculation or manipulation and account for known problem types. But if we haven’t accounted for something unexpected, its lack of inherent “human” intelligence becomes obvious. And this is why people will always be needed.

When faced with an unexpected situation, humans remain far more capable of quickly assimilating new information, adapting and in some cases, updating automation workflows with the new information. When automation frees up time by relieving us of the day to day process tasks, we are able to use some of that time to enhance our training in emerging areas and use our wisdom, creativity, collaboration, problem solving and insight to see new opportunities and ways of doing things.

Indeed, research published by The Economist, suggests that some jobs, even in industries that have seen significant automation, are hard to displace as workers have found ways to maintain productivity in both routine tasks and social and creative ones — something computers or robots cannot do.

There’s no doubt that automation will change how we work. We’ve seen that repeated countless times throughout human history. But humans have never stopped working. We may do different things but even the most intelligent automation requires humans to create the algorithms, to manage the exceptions, and solve new problems in creative ways.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I am excited to see how humans will continue to innovate and solve complex problems. We might even be able to become so efficient that we can all enjoy a 4 day working week. We have the ability to imagine and create a new world of work, using technology to drive greater efficiency than has ever been possible before.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

Please refer to the comments made above. Automation can help improve employee wellbeing and mental health by removing the tedious, boring and mundane repetitive work from their jobs and enable them to focus more on creativity, collaboration, innovation and higher value work.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

In Australia, with our borders only just starting to reopen, we have seen the need to upskill our people. Without the access to international talent, Australian businesses need to do more with less and automation and upskilling is key to this.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

We have covered this above, the key trends would be:

  1. People will always remain essential in the future of work.
  2. Businesses of all sizes will invest more heavily in automation to enable greater productivity gains, remove repetitive work and enable their people to spend more time on work that requires human skills.
  3. Automation will make it easier for people to work hybrid, remote and flexible.
  4. Startups and SMEs will begin to leverage subscription services and affordable ways to leverage the use of automation and enable them to punch above their weight and help lean teams to do more. They will increasingly harness service providers that deliver intelligent automation via cloud services, using a ‘per use’ pricing model that negates the need for up front capital investment in hardware or the need to increase headcount.
  5. Intelligent automation will begin to impact the world of IoT as data from different devices is collected and integrated. Automation will collect, collate and normalise the data so it can be quickly and easily analysed.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

My go to life quote would have to be “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me”. This quote resonates with me so strongly, because at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. I could be completely calm and serene within myself, but if my actions are the total opposite, then I am not being true to myself and I’m painting a false picture for everyone else.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

Dan Carlin — he’s the host of a series of podcasts that I’ve been listening to and enjoying for several years now. Dan has a wonderful way of dissecting various topics and issues, from the historical to the political, and I really admire his ability to present balanced content and opinions in a media landscape that’s become increasingly polarised. A private breakfast or lunch would be a real privilege, even if it was just listening to Dan give his take on the “news of the day”!

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

They can follow us on LinkedIn —

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

Thank you so much for the opportunity!