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…or are they?

The truth is that the ‘robots’, as a byword for automation, have been coming for decades, centuries and millennia. Centuries ago, agriculture was almost entirely a manual process which over the years has seen the introduction of automation tools. Starting with rudimentary ploughs pulled by mules and evolving into GPS guided combine harvesters and tractors.

A similar automation evolution has been happening in business offices across the world for years but the emergence of more ‘intelligent’ automation solutions is predicted to increase the rate of adoption for automation significantly over the next decade. It’s been gathering momentum in large Enterprise organisations for a number of years and is now moving into the mid-market and SME.

So what is ‘Intelligent Automation’ (also called Hyperautomation)? Intelligent automation is the combination of several emergent technologies into solutions which automate end to end processes. The types of technologies included under the intelligent automation banner include:

Process Mining / Task Mining
Artificial intelligence (AI)
Business Process Management (BPM)
Low / No code platforms
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
The Robots

These technologies can be brought together to provide the end-to-end automation of core business processes such as order-to-cash, procure-to-pay or more discreet processes such as fraud detection and employee onboarding/offboarding. Like agriculture a century ago, these processes have historically been reliant on lots of manual effort and intervention. Intelligent automation technology can and will replace a lot of that manual effort and intervention in the years to come.

What does this impending automation revolution mean to us mere mortals? Well as with the agriculture example, this is something humanity has faced into time and time again. At the start of the 1900’s 40% of the population of the United States worked in agriculture. Fast forward to now and that percentage has fallen to just 2%. At the same time, the output from the sector has increased exponentially. It has had to keep up with the ever-growing population. In short ‘automation’ has allowed that sector to produce more value at a significantly lower cost. So, should we expect to see mass unemployment across the UK because of this explosion in automation technology?

My opinion is: No. I say that for several reasons.

Over time industry evolves. Change is a constant. A 2016 study by the World Economic Forum, claimed that 65% of children entering primary school will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. If automation does replace certain roles within industry, natural evolution will mean that other new roles will be created.

In Spectrum Digital’s experience, automation does not often replace entire roles, it replaces responsibilities. According to McKinsey research, “5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology. However, about 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated”1. We should look at intelligent automation solutions as our personal assistants, helping us excel in our roles by taking away a lot of the more laborious and mundane responsibilities.

Most of the time when we start working with our clients, the starting point is the same. “I want to grow revenue whilst keeping the same size team. How do I do that?”. Automation can provide a scalable operation which means businesses can grow without adding costs.

Having said that, it would be naïve to say that people won’t be effected by automation on an individual level. Business leaders need to be aware of the possibilities that automation can provide and start to plan what that means for their people. During the early 1900’s, the US built more schools and made High School attendance compulsory for all up to the age of 16. This was in recognition of the fact that the economic labour needs were changing. In short, they needed fewer farm labourers and more blue- and white-collar workers. It worked and America went on to establish itself as an economic superpower during the 20th century. The leaders of today need a similar mindset.

What skills do we need in the organisations of tomorrow? Not long ago, we needed knowledge workers. That has changed. Google has more knowledge than all the people within your organisation put together and it’s available within a fraction of a second. Creativity, empathy, communication: maybe these are the skills of tomorrow.

I’ll finish on a final thought. Maybe our roles as intelligent automation consultants could also be replaced by the very technology we advise on. After all, our job is to work with organisations to help identify opportunities for process automation and then build the technology solutions that automate those processes.

There could well be a time in the not-too-distant future where organisations use process and task mining technology to automatically identify bottlenecks in a process. This output is then fed into a Business Process Management tool which uses artificial intelligence to redefine the process which is then automatically built by an RPA bot using a simple no code technology. Thereby starting a continuous improvement cycle that never stops.

It’s not far away. Our job is to make sure that by the time it happens, we’ve found other more creative ways to add value to our clients.

The robots aren’t coming, they’re here. Now we need to work out how to live with them.

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