Just as horse breeders believed that there was no threat to their job from automobiles, it seems naïve and irresponsible to believe that RPA will not make jobs redundant in the future. Does this shock you? If not, you are better informed than most.
Impact of automation in history
Let us go back a bit to the era of industrial automation – in 1913, Ford introduced a car production assembly line which reduced costs, produced reliable cars and in a shorter time than that required by a team of skilled and unskilled workers. Constant upgrades to this system have resulted in high-quality products which are better in terms of resource, raw material and energy utilization.
Contrary to popular misconception, there were more jobs created which required talents specific to humans such as decision-making, creative thinking and cognitive analysis.
Many such ground-breaking revolutions seem to compete with low-skill workers over the course of history. Such an example is the railways. In the 1880s the Qing dynasty opposed constructing railways citing the loss of luggage-carrying jobs despite obvious economic growth.
Similarly, RPA will take over jobs – jobs which are labour-intensive, do not require the IQ of a human and consist of scenarios where it is possible to make an error, such as data-entry jobs.
In turn, this is going to create more decision-making and leadership roles for the organization to prosper and grow. We only have to think beyond the mundane and comprehend the magic which is possible after unburdening oneself from the routine tasks.
RPA – A technological partner, not a competitor
RPA will work along with the existing system and in most cases will not replace the existing system. In areas such as data-cleaning, order management, compliance tracking and payment processing, there are repetitive, and low-value tasks which take up the time of a qualified engineer or accountant.
Back office workers devote up to 80% of their time on monotonous manual tasks, lowering performance and motivation. As a skilled member of the organization, would you rather perform tedious but necessary chores or take up tasks which will challenge you and help you grow?
This is where RPA comes in. It takes the burden of routine tasks such as monitoring systems, completing forms, recording data and perform other tasks which in reality are no-brainers for the bulk of the talent pool. You now have the time to innovate, improvise, provide insights about the current business process operations and take on leadership responsibilities, thereby improving the nature of your work.
It is a value-add in many cases. During the floods in the UK, a retailer used RPA to identify flood-affected consumers and directly removed late-payment charges from their accounts. Financial service providers also have used such one-off solutions in KYC remediation processing, monitoring, and reporting.
Still not convinced about the power of RPA? An excerpt from The World Bank’s World Development Report 2019 – “Over the last century, machines have replaced workers in many tasks. On balance, however, technology has created more jobs than it has displaced. Technology has brought higher labour productivity to many sectors by reducing the demand for workers for routine tasks. And yet in doing so, it has opened doors to new sectors once imagined only in the world of science fiction.”
How do I empower myself?
The premium rises for jobs which need general cognitive skills such as critical thinking and socio-behavioural skills. Technology challenges the traditional boundaries of firms, expanding global value chains and changing the geography of jobs. It is up to each individual to upskill themselves creatively based on their inherent talent and rise above the tediousness of mind-numbing work to truly reach for the sky.