Automating Admin Assistants

Embracing the age of occupational automation

Technology Automation ・ January 26, 2017 ・ 5 mins

Does your job involve mundane tasks? Well, spare a thought for the humble admin assistant, the unsung heroes of mundanity. Having been in contact with administrative roles for many years across the public and private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve seen colleagues executing tasks that would be much better suited to a not too overly-sophisticated robot. So in the impending age of automation where do they stand?

Automating Admin Assistants

Administration is a role which can take shape in multiple guises. I’ve seen it in a standalone role, and as part of a wider team of people in similar roles. Admin assistants can serve as personal assistants for highly dependent managers, particularly where professionals at the top of an organisational hierarchy are entirely disabled without a functioning assistant or two. Admin, personal or executive… whichever form it takes, the core abstraction of form and function is the same in all of these roles: menial organisational tasks undertaken to free up time for non-assistants to conduct higher-level business functions. The tasks encompassed in these roles are highly predictable, and without playing-down the historical importance of administration in greasing the wheels of success, even the most well-to-do businesses harbour mind-numbingly repetitive administrative jobs. Not exactly the epitome of romantic job descriptions and not overly conducive to career growth.

So why do people become admin assistants? Maybe it’s the only job available to them in the market; maybe the worker enjoys contributing in a way that helps certain individuals/the entire organisation to move forward. Or perhaps they’re looking for a job that doesn’t demand too much, especially if they have other commitments in life. Interviews of colleagues in-situ revealed their reasons for being there varied. The dominant response revolved around stability, like this example: “It’s a steady role and lets me look forward to life outside of work”. And it is this very stability which is threatened with the prospect of automation.

Zooming out a little and with an empathic frame of reference, as the most powerful computer in the known universe, the human mind is capable of so much. Thus, the types of tasks presented to an admin assistant can be underwhelming to say the least and come across as a considerable waste of mental acuity that could otherwise be reapplied to more challenging roles. On top of this, to usher things along towards a fourth industrial revolution, there is an impending threat posed by automation just over the horizon.

In essence, it’s clear that the role of administrative assistants within forward-looking organisations has to evolve.

In the not too distant future, good education, training and awareness will ensure that admin roles in their current capacity need not exist. In preparation, management has a responsibility to enact the change and redirect a subset of their human resources into a more internally-focused process-reforming workforce. This can mean giving up habitual legacy systems of functioning in favour of the new. All this is at the cost of investing time and money with a mind to optimise operations. To stay competitive, it is predicted that automation will need to take certain burdens away from employees, and in doing so it’ll gradually spread to encompass the entire scope of a job. For administrators who’ll likely be amongst the first attacked by this wave of automation, the prospects aren’t good as tasks such as arranging schedules and photocopying are already becoming duties taken by the intelligent digital workspace.

In order to counter this encroachment, administrators will need to embrace the coming age of automation by being adaptable. One such way is to sidle up to the machines and learn the implementation processes that will displace themselves and others - counterintuitive, but it becomes a new expertise that is not only invaluable to the company but places successful individuals at the front of their managers’ minds for retention. Administrators should go out of their way to understand the connection between their current role and how the firm generates a profit, and in doing so, a mastery of processes involved in intelligent scripting together with buy-in from management can propel research into how automation can be effectively introduced into the workplace, for the sake of the workplace’s future.

Granted, all this is a highly-intensive endeavour involving a lot of reskilling through investment of money, time and energy by multiple agents… but by no means is it impossible. Cooperation between various parties – business leaders, human resources, developers, and analysts – together can bring about this impending reality sooner rather than later when the competition will be much more heated. Not only will it future-proof the business by saving substantial administrative running costs and improving throughput, but it will also extend the viable working life of the very people who have firmly become essential to the pre-artificially-intelligent business.

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