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Is robotic automation causing job losses?

Is robotic automation causing job losses?

Here’s how technology can help companies improve efficiency and focus on human skills

Robotics is beginning to have a profound effect on business in many different ways. But it’s the lesser-known area of robotic automation – process automation and desktop automation – that have the biggest potential to increase operational and cost efficiency across the board.

Unlike industrial robots, in robotic automation the term ‘robot’ is a metaphorical one, referring to software products that take mundane ‘robotic tasks’ away from people. Robotic process automation (RPA) works on a server processing level in a server room without humans, and robotic desktop automation (RDA) on a desktop level, alongside a human.

Robotic software mimics human activity by carrying out a task within a clearly defined process and can do repetitive work with greater speed and accuracy, freeing up personnel to focus on other areas where human skills such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment, and customer interaction, are pivotal.

The robotic automation market is expected to grow from $183m in 2013 to $5bn by 2020, according to Transparency Market Research, and experts predict that one in six public sector jobs could be automated by 2030. There are numerous advantages for enterprises, but the shift has also attracted cautionary concerns, including comments from the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney who highlighted the negative impact of subsequent job losses.

However, robotic automation is here to stay and its true value isn’t cutting the number of staff but rather the unique way to improve customer experience. Companies can still embrace the technology while protecting the interests of their workforce.

Effect on global employment

A 2016 survey by Redwood Software found that 27 per cent of participants are already using robotics, while 35 per cent are actively looking to do so and 38 per cent are researching the technology. In addition, 67 per cent said they plan on using robotic automation in the next 12 months and 72 per cent planned to leverage existing investment in ERP to drive further automation in the next 12 months.

Like with most major technological innovations, some jobs will inevitably be lost over time, but new ones will also be created – most notably to address the need for qualified workers to maintain, improve, and develop RDA and RPA software. Evidence also suggests that it’s not whole jobs that will be lost but certain parts of jobs, changing the scope so that work can be reassembled into different types of roles that equip employees with the necessary skills to perform in today’s commercial environment.

Above all, robotic automation is primarily about streamlining operations so people can do their jobs better. Employees will reap the benefits by harnessing the power of smart automation tools to enhance the quality of their work in more meaningful, skill-based roles. In turn, this will lead to better job satisfaction and retention rates.

Customer service focused entities, such as governments, banks, insurance companies and healthcare facilities, have the most to gain as the technology significantly reduces the administrative burden so staff are able to focus their attention on more personal interactions with the customer.

Implementing robotic automation

Robotic automation is particularly suited to processes currently assigned to a high number of staff. Every resource follows a standard operating procedure, which is made up of a series of data reading, decisions or business rules, and the actions are done using a mouse and keyboard.

One of the biggest advantages of automation is the scope of its usability across various processes and the ability to complete a variety of tasks; robotic automation is excellent at operating multi-step tasks across multiple systems. What’s more, there are no system changes required: no need to develop complex APIs that become obsolete when there is an upgrade of the system version the API is integrating to. Robotic automation is interfacing at the user level just as the usual employee does; this means that security and confidentiality remains the same.

To decide if a task can benefit from automation, it has to be definable, repeatable and rules-based. Once that is the case, the agility of the solution allows companies to be creative in the tasks they choose to automate and also to test new scenarios quickly and easily. One of the best ways to assess the potential value is to do a pilot. A pilot is a great way to maximise your budget and provide executives with the information they need to make decisions about the implementation of robotic automation.

In essence, businesses should identify the opportunity, validate it, design the mode, and deploy the pilot.

Thierry Petrens is managing partner at Kleptika

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