Over the past decade or so, there’s been quite a buzz going around with regards to robotic process automation somehow leading to a dystopian world in which humans are slowly being squeezed out and replaced by technology. With the increasingly widespread adoption of everything from smart devices and drones to self-service kiosks and even cars that can drive themselves, many people are becoming equally uncomfortable with the idea of artificial intelligence – particularly as it relates to the workplace.
And automation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, we’re seeing this technology that in its infancy was only capable of handling simple, repetitive tasks now infiltrating even high-level jobs that would once have been considered off-limits. For instance, rather than making an appointment with your financial advisor, you can now rely instead on software algorithms for investment guidance at a fraction of the cost. And with Gartner predicting that 1/3 of all jobs will be replaced by automation and smart machines by the year 2025, it’s only going to get more complicated.
So, then, it only stands to reason that people in every industry and at every level should not only be aware of what robotic process automation is, but how and when it will ultimately affect them in the end. In simplest of terms, RPA involves the automation of business processes that were once performed by humans. It can be applied to basic, rules-based activities, such as data entry or assembly work. Or, as mentioned in the above example, it can also be used to automate and streamline even high-level, complex tasks and workflows.
What does this mean to the human workforce? Will people have no choice but to sit back, wait and watch as robots take over their jobs and render them obsolete? Considering Gartner’s prediction, it’s obvious that some jobs will, indeed, be eliminated. How many? Well, there are plenty of estimations, but according to a recent Forrester report, we may be looking at the displacement of over 22 million jobs in the US alone by 2025. So, yes, some people will be replaced.
But that doesn’t mean that humans will cease to exist in the future workplace. To the contrary, many experts predict that the workplace of tomorrow will involve the peaceful coexistence of machine and personnel. When robotic automation is used to its fullest benefit, it will actually make the jobs of humans easier and more efficient by taking on the menial tasks and allowing them to focus on other areas of business that cannot be turned over to technology. And because RPA will require the oversight of human workers, new jobs and career paths will begin to emerge, replacing those that were eliminated.
Finally, it’s important to remember that while most of us accept and even embrace automated technology in our day to day lives (think ATM machines, IVRs and other self-service options), there will always be a place for the human touch, especially in the area of customer experience. RPA can eliminate the drudgery and free up front-line personnel to become better critical problem solvers and relationship builders. In reality, customer service will likely never be completely outsourced to robots. It can, should and will, however, be influenced, supported and enhanced by automation technology.