Is your job robot-proof?

Robots and automation are going to significantly change the workplace of the future.

Johannesburg, 02 Apr 2019
Read time 5min 00sec
Allen Pascoe, head of the Robotic Process Automation unit, Datafinity.
Allen Pascoe, head of the Robotic Process Automation unit, Datafinity.

Increasing levels of automation through the use of technology in the workplace means that upward of 75 million people will need to change occupations by 2030, although this figure could be as high as 375 million, according to a study conducted by the Mckinsey Global Institute in December 2017.

The replacement of humans with robots in the workplace is already happening. Dubai has deployed robot police officers and plans to have 25% of its patrolling police force replaced by robots by 2030. Car manufacturers are routinely implementing robots to perform repetitive tasks that were previously carried out by humans. The future is here, the only question is, how will we evolve to meet it?

The good news is that what appears to be a threat doesn't always turn out that way. Consider the paper versus digital conundrum. For years we've been predicting the paperless work space in favour of digital. Yet, global demand for paper is expected to double by 2030.

The implementation of automation and robots in the workplace will be no different, predicts Allen Pascoe, head of the Robotic Process Automation unit at Datafinity. "While robotic process automation (RPA) will certainly result in the loss of some categories of jobs altogether, it will also open up new and different opportunities for the human workforce. Early adopters of the technology will have to re-evaluate the skill sets required to maintain a competitive edge in this fast evolving wave of the so-called fourth industrial revolution."

McKinsey research shows that technology tends to create more jobs than it destroys, with a caveat that these jobs are usually created outside of the industry itself. The good news is that it is predicted that 20 million new jobs are expected to be created in the technology space by 2030.

Rise of the robots

Digital transformation is already well under way at the majority of businesses, and automation and robotics is just the next evolution in this journey. One in three businesses already has some form of automated process in place, most commonly accounts payable, accounts receivable and vendor management, according to the Association for Information and Image Management. (AIIM)

Pascoe comments: "RPA is the use of software robots to carry out repetitive and predictable tasks normally done by humans, just more quickly and with a much lower error rate."

He says robotic process automation is the next level of automation technology that does not have the limits of other traditional automation tools, as it simply mimics what humans would do on their workstations. This removes the complexity that integration projects often carry with them, and is quick to deploy, resulting in quick time to operational value and higher ROI.

Rui Fernandes, technical director at Datafinity, adds that RPA can be used to integrate legacy systems that previously would have been very difficult to do with the APIs and tools that they offered, particularly older 'green screen' type applications. "However, it's important to identify the types of processes that are good candidates for RPA. Ideally, you want to automate unfulfilling activities that are repetitive, mundane or unsatisfying, or processes where there are large volumes of transactions that require a lot of time to process."

The future of work

Work as we know it is going to change beyond recognition, says Paul Wright, MD at Datafinity. "Statistics say that about 30% of activities in 60% of current occupations could conceivably be automated; in fact, 5% of the jobs that exist today could technically be fully automated."

The implications of this are either a spike in unemployment figures, or a workforce that has had to re-skill and redirect its energies towards tasks that can't be automated. "It's a case of adapt or die," says Wright.

Research by Forrester says between four and seven million cubicle jobs will be displaced by 2025. So-called 'safe' jobs of the future include anything to do with managing or caring for people, as automation is ideally suited to performing repetitive tasks. So jobs such as those of social workers, managers and executives, nurses, therapists, tour guides, entertainers, designers, installers, engineers, educators and clergy should be safe from automation for the foreseeable future.

Wright says: "Countries with a highly paid workforce, in advanced economies, may be quickest to adopt RPA, as the business benefit to automating repetitive tasks would be greatest, whereas emerging markets and developing economies where average wages, etc, are still comparatively low, may be slower to adopt the technology. "

Six benefits of RPA

* RPA reduces operational cost and operational risk by having predefined process handling and monitoring.
* It delivers a significant productivity boost as it frees up staff from mundane tasks.
* Businesses are able to scale their workforce with digital employees and augment efficiencies.
* RPA combined with AI continually learns more through experience and incremental context referencing.
* The business is able to deliver better customer service as response times are improved.
* Employees' job satisfaction is improved as they can now apply their skills to more value-adding activities.

The last word comes from Pascoe, who says: "Unattended robots are able to transform and enhance productivity across a business, so RPA is very much a C-suite level discussion in terms of TCO and the potential number of man hours saved, crossing the business/IT divide of old."