Automation is a popular buzzword these days. Every organization and every leader are talking about automating something or the other. In the quintessential IT services industry, this buzzword is projected as the panacea for all the growth pangs that it is going through now. On the other hand, this term also instills a certain degree of fear amongst the lower half of the organizational pyramid. They see it as a threat to their jobs.
From an impact perspective, we see two types of automation. One, which facilitates foray into a new uncharted territory and hence does not impact the workforce. The second is something that replaces an existing manual work and hence is a cause of concern for the people.
Consider the case of a common passenger elevator that we see in every multi-story residential apartment and in offices. This one automation has not replaced any manual system and on the other hand, has opened up a huge construction industry resulting in enormous vertical growth of the real estate across the globe resulting in a USD 8.5 Trillion business as of last year.
In the Banking Industry, despite the fast paced computerization over the last 15 years and given the fact that over 50% of the customers carry out a bulk of their transactions over the Internet, the number of employees has only gone up. In India alone, the number of Bank employees have grown to about 1.3 Million and this does not include the host of allied agencies who outsourced a major chunk of regular offline Banking transaction by the Banks.
Some 25 years ago, Indian Banks were struggling with manual ledgers for their account keeping. The branches would have a dedicated workforce to only balance their books as of the end of each month. It used to be an ongoing work all through the year. Post automation, this need for balancing had gone but it also opened up many new areas of work. The other day, a colleague of mine was narrating an incident. He was in another city on a personal trip and did a high-value purchase one late evening at a mall. And as he was entering his password at the POS terminal, he got a call from his Bank checking if he was indeed making that payment – as this was a different city and the value was much higher than his normal pattern. Could we have imagined this a few years back? We neither had such intuitive data points nor did we have a central, online, 24×7 system. So, while automation took away a nature of the job, it created some other avenues of providing better and secure service to the customers.
Therefore, while it may appear, in the short run, that automation might take away someone’s job, it is clear from the data points above that it is only the nature of job that changes and it is the Darwinian theory of natural selection that creates and finds a suitable alternative employment for the active workforce.
In the IT industry, the workforce is concerned about automated coding, automated testing etc. It is a fact that the IT industry has matured to a state where it can indulge into automated coding, though at this stage, it is only to a limited extent. However, it is a process of evolution. Like we still have buildings without an elevator, we will still have a piece of code or a test case that will be written and executed manually. It will follow a process of evolution and by the time automated coding and testing is all permeating, we will have workforce finding its way through the Darwinian ‘natural selection’ towards new vistas of opportunities.
The only difference between the Darwinian theory of evolution and today’s advancement on automation is that it was a slow process that was theorized in posterity. But automation is our chance to define the scenario for posterity. Think big and think fearlessly. It may take the time to mature. Like someone thought of a tunnel boring machine in the 19th century and only now we see that as an essential tool to build modern underground transportation in a busy town. The process of evolution and the mechanism of natural selection are both slow and they allow you enough time for transition.