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The RPA Impact: Reality – as opposed to theory

December 5, 2017 - Deepak Kumar Director Business Development, EdgeVerve Systems

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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has advanced significantly over the past few years and has made inroads to IT Services, Manufacturing, Banking, Telecom—to name a few. In a digital-first world, RPA has been the essential food for thought among organizations that require seamless operations, and greater value from resources. But the potential impacts of RPA are hit with gloomy predictions like ‘Jobocalypse’, and the only selling point was a potential ‘Skill Uplift’—people who were displaced moved into higher roles.
In this context, recently, I had an opportunity to host a roundtable discussion with various RPA leaders in Australia and New Zealand. And, my key interest in the discussion was to find out what is the reality—as opposed to the theory? Will there be a mass displacement of human labor? Will RPA reduce the need for repetitive human effort?
Yes, there has been a sustained and large-scale RPA rollout in organizations, there has been job displacements—no surprises there, but the fine print is interesting:

  • Some organizations have implemented RPA as a necessity–after a business restructure has been done and people have been let go. Here, RPA was more of a tool to “Cope” up with the loss of manpower.
  • While others have used RPA to avoid staff headcount and costs associated with it in future. In this case, RPA has contributed to an order of magnitude increase in staff productivity, which has allowed organizations to grow without the attendant increase in the cost base.

In both of the above cases, there is no real ‘Skill uplift’. While people who lost jobs in the first scenario, may have acquired new skills and applied for different jobs, Therefore, it is very hard to directly link this as an impact of RPA, but there are other examples, where ‘Real Skill Uplift’ has been observed.

To include a few:

  • In some organizations, people are likely to be potentially displaced by RPA as “Process” SMEs – some even have retrained them as robotics developers. There are significant evidence of people taking up “higher” order cognitive functions – than routine and manual ones.
  • In specialized functions such as Finance – employees, many of whom, happened to have higher levels of qualifications (MBA, CFA etc.), but mired in transaction processing duties are now able to truly leverage their qualifications–by delegating the transaction processing to RPA.
  • In contact centers, organizations have leveraged robotics to improve customer engagement time (Instead of asking people to do data entry operations). However, as the theory predicts, a new class of jobs is getting created. Every large consulting organization now has a thriving RPA practice. A new crop of developers called “Bot builders” are showing up everywhere.

However, people who are taking up these jobs have a consulting or IT background – as opposed to people who are actually displaced by automation.
So, that’s the story so far! I think, after a few years, we may see more substantial examples of RPA roll out in the region. And, this will give us more insights about RPA—its impact on the labor market, and how the “up skilling” plays out.
I thank all the leaders for freely sharing their views during the discussion…

Deepak Kumar

Director Business Development, EdgeVerve Systems

Deepak works with clients across APAC region to help them deliver the benefits of new and emerging technologies like Cognitive Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Predictive Analytics and Robotic Process Automation. This includes clients in industries like Telecom, Banking, Insurance and Healthcare. Deepak has 16+ years of experience in the IT industry and specialises in helping organisations leverage their current IT investments to the maximum extent possible and yet deliver the desired change in customer experience.

More blogs from Deepak Kumar >

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