Will Robots Put Us Out of Jobs or Help Us Work Smarter?

Khaleej Times

October 17, 2017

The creation of robots to undertake jobs previously carried out by humans is being realized. As many as one-third of jobs are expected be taken over by technology in the next 20 years.

Does this mean that robots will be our colleagues in the future?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), or “software robotics,” is far removed from the idea of a physical robot manually carrying out work—this is not a metallic humanoid with a digitized voice.

Instead, a robot in this sense is the technology allowing organizations to configure computer software in order to complete various tasks. Robotic process automation is the use of software that mimics human behavior to carry out repetitive, high volume administrative tasks.

Software robotics has been receiving a lot of attention in the recent past. That includes from both popular press speculation about the impact on jobs and the analyst press discussing the potential impact on offshoring and outsourcing.

It works by replicating the activities that people currently undertake, using existing core systems, legacy applications, accessing websites and manipulating spreadsheets, documents and e-mail to complete tasks. Using RPA software involves mapping out current or new processes, linking it to existing applications and then scheduling them to run on one or more robots whenever required. There are now many vendors in the market and more arriving all the time. As well as the more well-known vendors, there is a constant stream of new entrants and the addition of RPA features to traditional business process management solutions.

The promise of software robotics is to deliver a solution that can rapidly automate manual back-office and customer-facing processes, making them faster, significantly more cost-effective, and improving consistency and regulatory compliance, all with a return on investment (RoI) typically in less than one year.

Banks, insurers and wealth and asset managers have successfully piloted robotics solutions. But what about industrializing the benefits?

The size of the prize on offer from doing so, both in terms of cost savings and service transformation, places accelerating and industrializing software robotics firmly on the agenda for the C-suite of most financial services groups.

Rather than representing a threat to the workforce, our experience as one of the largest consultancies dealing with robotics, suggests that robots are best thought of as a complementary workforce working hand-in-hand with people to help them improve their performance and focus their time on other, higher priority tasks, strategy and innovation. Robots can enable people to work better, smarter and more creatively, expanding the art of the possible.

There is also a lot of focus at global tech conferences on the potential of cognitive robotics, with companies putting what were high-concept ideas, like driverless cars and self-navigating drones, into production. Cognitive automation—including machine learning and artificial intelligence—will take us much further than where we are today, and give rise to the next generation of business process efficiency. While the progress being made in these projects is very impressive, the costs are significant and they expose some interesting challenges.

For example, in financial services, the equivalent would be self-optimizing customer service, loan pricing, financial advice, or claims or complaint handling. Designing a statistical optimization or machine-learning approach to get the best outcome is relatively straightforward. But designing and monitoring one that aligns to legal, regulatory and ethical conduct requirements can be more challenging.

While natural language interfaces and sentiment analysis can understand human emotion, the ability to naturally converse and empathize with perfect accuracy is still a work in progress. But there are clearly areas where a degree of learning or “cognitive” technology offers a significant advantage, such as processing of paper documentation, understanding speech, detection of fraud, and so on.

So, are you ready to welcome your new colleague of the future?

The writer is advisory leader at EY for Africa, India and Middle East. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.

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