History has shown us that technology can transform the shape of industry. Automation is evolving and a new wave of robotics stands to replace repetitive, process driven roles.

 robotic process automation

Quick takeaways if you’re in a hurry

  • 47 percent of America’s jobs could be automated within the next 20 years
  • Robotic automation offer the opportunity to increase speed and accuracy and remove human error
  • While automation will remove jobs from the workforce, it’s widely agreed that the evolution of society and technology will create new roles that require new skills and abilities.

Read on: Robotic process automation: get ready for the future

(estimated reading time: 9 minutes)

Carl Frey, an Oxford Economist, and Michael Osborne, a Machine Learning Expert, reported in 2013 that 47 percent of America’s jobs could potentially become automated within two decades. This report has been both questioned and agreed with by the media and the academic world, and remains an important indication of the impact of automation on the job landscape of today and tomorrow.

Technology in history

Technological advances always seems to have a direct or indirect impact on employment. The nature of jobs has undergone an evolution since the introduction of machines. The automation of tasks has resulted in reduced manual labour and the transfer of repetitive function away from the employee.

A prime example of the transformation that machines bring about is the farmer. Farmers are notoriously hard workers, but before the invention of the tractor they relied on their hands, horse and labourers to manage the land. With the introduction of machinery came the ability to manage larger areas of land, and complete tasks faster and with less effort. This in turn reduced the required size of the workforce.

The continuous growth of automation

Automation continues to grow in today’s society. The consumer world bears witness to its increasing penetration in the growth of self-service kiosks as a tool for fulfilling transactions from airports to supermarkets. The future holds the imminent arrival of the driverless car. Once the technology of automation advances, it impacts society, displaces jobs, and requires consideration at a government level. However it is interesting that the UK retail sector, which is a hotbed of self-service automation, has seen a 30 percent growth in jobs since 1978, according to government figures.

Automation is growing in purpose in the business world. The manufacturing industry has already been transformed, and is about to undergo another evolution with the developments in 3D printing. Amazon continues to demonstrate its position at the forefront of advancement with Kiva Systems’ robotic technology that will “pick, pack and ship any item, anywhere, at any time”.

The office environment has undergone dramatic transformation over the past 40 years. Current technology has instigated the disappearance of the secretary or personal assistant as previously complex tasks like managing an executives schedule become automated with scheduling and management tools and applications. Increasingly the repetitive tasks in business are capable of being delivered by machines and computers.

Introducing Robotic Process Automation

The latest transformation of the job landscape comes courtesy of software that is known as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The Institute for Robotic Process Automation  defines RPA as: “the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.”

If companies use manpower to process information in high volume, transactional functions; then Robotic Process Automation has great ability to transform them. RPA is mainly a back end system, removing people from core process like: IT support; workflow processes; expense management; and data entry. RPA aims to increase the speed and accuracy with which processes are managed.

Where previous large scale transformations driven by technology occurred in the manufacturing sector, so now it seems likely that it will be business support services that will experience the effects of RPAs. In analysis based on Frey and Osborne in 2014, Deloitte’s The robots are coming: moving beyond traditional methods of automation reported that 56 percent of financial function roles in the UK had a high probability of being automated.

Of respondents surveyed, 91 percent indicated their plan to apply RPA to accounts payable functions, 55 percent planned to apply RPA to travel and expenses, and 36 percent indicated their intention to apply RPA to fixed assets. 13 percent of those surveyed intended to invest in robotic process automation in the next 12 months.

RPA has the potential to allow many businesses to introduce processing services that may previously have been outside what they could afford or their resource availability. If their historical solution to access these services was outsourcing, they could be looking forward to a significant financial gain. Automation offers the potential to achieve more with a lot less: which can only benefit businesses that are lean on resource.

Increasing the opportunities to automate in both the business and consumer world will continue to transform society. It’s challenging to guess the impact on jobs, as economists consistently predict that where jobs are lost to technology, new ones are also created. The WEF’s Future of Jobs report released in January 2016 indicated an estimated unemployment increase of 0.3 percent on a global scale.

This number struggles to be significant in the context of the global economy, and reinforces the universal belief that where jobs are lost they will also be gained, and usually of a higher pay level.

It is expected that large scale automation will impact on employment. This will see jobs move from some sectors and into others, as the market creates new opportunities and demands new skills to match them.

While big changes may be predicted, this will be over a number of years and the expectation is that much of the change will evolve with the normal churn of employees leaving and arriving in the workforce.

The real focus for change lies with the leaders of government and corporations who must empower the workers of tomorrow with the skills that are needed to succeed in jobs that have not yet been created.

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