The workforce of the future will be total: an interwoven quilt of human workers, artificial intelligence, digitalized systems, and Robotic Process Automation. The latter is already becoming an essential tool in the modern workplace.
“In time, we are likely to see an arms-race for innovation in automation tools leading to new offerings and delivery models” says Sarah Burnett, Vice President of Research at the Everest Group.
What is robotic process automation?
First let us be clear about what exactly we are referring to. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is basically the replacement and automation of systems that were previously completed by humans, and there are already copious examples in the modern workplace. From systems which have automated digital marketing strategies, to employee induction programmes and recruitment, there are processes which have already implemented which use software and automation programmes to ensure the smooth operation of tasks that were previously disjointed and inefficient. RPA is governed by business logic and its inputs are structured and timely, resulting in smoother operations. “RPA can be seen in action in the case of automatic email responses, in a simple brief, to the more complex systems involved in Enterprise Resource Planning, which looks to standardize and integrate business functions across the board, meaning sales, marketing, finance, and so on,” explains Grace Smith, a tech writer at Writinity and Draftbeyond.
The benefits of RPA
The true benefits of RPA can perhaps best be categorized into two segments: improvements in efficiency added by automation of tasks, and additional capacity afforded to human workers to carry out activities deemed to be of higher value. If your business can operate with an efficient, standardized process, both internally and customer-facing, and at the same time allow human workers the luxury of nurturing customer relationships and decision-making activities, then RPA is bringing the benefits it should to your operation.
How to implement RPA into your business
The key concern in implementing RPA is not to think about how RPA itself can be brought into your organization, but look at real tasks and consider how these can be made more efficient though their automation. Think about the activities that currently waste human capacity, as well as those activities that would work better if standardized across the board. Think about the dual concerns of improving customer experience and making existing processes more cost-effective, and that allows for the blueprint of RPA within your business.
The impact of RPA, and what this means for human workers
Unsurprisingly, the impact of RPA is already being felt, but the future, as well as the here and now, is the proliferation of RPA processes across business systems. Currently, the focus is more on internal processes, but the impact of RPA on client-focused activities is where development is focussed. For example, RPA promises to play a role in the classifying of all emails or communications that are received from customers and clients, saving an incredible amount of man-power in the process. Imagine not having to read through, categorise and disseminate all of the communications incoming to the business?
Simply, more and more human input tasks are being replaced by RPA systems, but this inevitably leads to concerns about what this means for the future of the human worker. Will RPA eventually render the human worker redundant?
There are many scaremongers who predict the decline in relevance of the human worker, but this is to fail to appreciate the opportunities that RPA presents by replacing those labour-intensive activities that waste so much of workers’ capacity. Take the previously mentioned email classification system. “In this case, RPA is freeing up valuable time that a worker can dedicate to more creative tasks that RPA will not replace. Strategizing, fostering client relationships, and creative decion-making, for example, are tasks that will remain exclusively within the abilities of the human worker,” says Samantha Dillon, a blogger at Gum Essays and Last Minute Writing.
RPA Integration with other tools (RPA 2.0)
So the point is that although RPA can and already does offer a host of benefits working as a standalone process, the real benefits of the technology will be felt as RPA is integrated into other tools and systems within the organization, and that also means integration into human processes. RPA needs to be seen as an incredible tool that complements the other tools that you already possess within your organization: it is not a Swiss-army-knife-style solution to replace everything else. That is to simply miss the essence of what RPA is all about.
The ideal is a total workforce, with RPA and the human worker co-existing, cooperating, and complementing in a seamless environment of interaction. This is the vision of RPA 2.0.
Artificial intelligence will further supplement the benefits brought about by RPA. Not all tasks within organizations, and in the broader sphere of human activity, require automation and consistency in delivery, and this is where AI promises to add the greatest value. It all adds together to create what is being called a total workforce: that is, a workforce that is supplemented by RPA and AI capabilities.
The future of work
So what does the future of work really look like? Are we to believe those who predict an Armageddon-esque scenario of robots having usurped the humans who bore them, akin to Dr. Frankenstein’s monster? Absolutely and categorically not. The future is that RPA will allow the completion of certain activities in an effective and efficient manner. What those activities already are, and what they will be, will be determined on a business-by-business basis, but we can already see that the shared features are that they are usually labour-intensive, repetitive, and fundamental to core business operations, but not the decision-making and strategizing functions that are more suited to the human mind. Other tasks will be identified that are dangerous, require an unnatural degree of precision, or are simply too relentless to be effectively continued by humans. Think of the healthcare sector and the possibilities that can and already are being opened up by RPA. With the added skillset of AI, the future is a more efficient workplace that allows for more innovative products and services, and in a broader sense, a more comfortable and less task-intensive life for humans.
About the Author: Clara Watkins is an experienced freelance writer who contributes regularly to Lucky Assignments. She has written extensively on a variety of subjects including lifestyle and travel, as well as functioning as a tutor at Research Papers UK, the academic site.