The last few years have seen a rapid rise in implementation of RPA across industries, along with increase in the capabilities of products from the largest RPA vendors – Automation Anywhere, WorkFusion, Blue Prism and UiPath. These players have implemented some excellent use cases and made their tools significantly easier to implement so that no organization is left behind in this evolution.
Clearly, IT services, which has so far thrived significantly on cost arbitrage, will be one of the most impacted as clients discover that they can derive significant value by applying RPA to the more repetitive tasks. This is both a threat and an opportunity.
In this blog post, I try to examine the impact on those who will be touched by this tsunami of change coming along. Will there be large-scale job losses? Can we be re-skilled? Can we coexist with robots (or, simply bots) in our midst? Will it have a positive impact on our work environment and our work-life balance?
At a very basic level, BOTs will help get rid of mundane, repetitive tasks. Which also means that they will free up time, bandwidth, and finally, our most important resource — our people. So, as managers and leaders, our goal will be to help channelize our teams to:
- Help identify opportunities to reduce mundane activities which don’t offer much intellectual challenge
- Do more with your time
- Inject more creativity in all our day jobs, enable outside-the-box thinking
- Identify new ideas/ways to address customer/business challenges.
And if we get this right, it will be a win-win for all: employees will have a greater sense of achievement in their work, customers will get more value for the same dollar spend, and the company will benefit from greater levels of productivity. Well, while there is a lot to be excited about, we need to make sure that the outcomes are favorable for all stakeholders.
Implementing RPA for industrial automation is not the hard part. Processes can be amended, simplified and automated with relative ease and as we have seen with the transformation of banking, customers are getting better at adopting newer ways of work very quickly. So, that isn’t going to be our biggest challenge.
The challenge really is: how do we adapt ourselves to this new reality so we are benefactors and not victims of the changes RPA brings about as industrial automation? So, it doesn’t make us Bhasmasura or become our Frankenstein?
Are we just afraid that these industrial robots are coming to take our jobs as part of industrial automation? When clients along with HCL get started into this journey of deploying RPA, what will happen to our workforce? Can we re-deploy those who are displaced by the industrial robots taking over their tasks? Will they continue doing different types of activities, within the same category of work or pick on totally new tasks? Will we be relevant?
I expect that we will use industrial robots to get rid of some of the time-consuming and repetitive tasks that weren’t the best use of our time anyway. And it will add much value to our own jobs as we will instead focus on other value-adding activities for our clients. I look forward to it improving the work-life balance for many who will not want to go back to their old role. But there will be significant bandwidth created in many roles.
This change is not going to be easy for most of us. It will certainly take time and effort from the individuals and management to go through it. The rise of robotic automation in our engagements should be welcomed. Not only do we need to reskill our teams to aggressively identify repetitive tasks that they should push as use cases to be implemented, we also need to learn to coexist with robots in day-to-day working. As leaders, we need to get this change management right and we need your support to succeed in this journey.
I believe there will be four key aspects to be successful:
- Preparing for the pace of change: It will look like a hockey stick - slow and incremental in the beginning as we see it today. The robotic automation products are maturing, companies are experimenting with changes in a contained manner, regulators/governments are reviewing the rules of the game, etc. But we will see that in the next one-two years, it will reach a tipping point, where RPA will come out of innovation centers and small PoCs to the mainstream in an irreversible way. So, we should use this time to get ready before these waves become tsunamis because then we will have little time to respond.
- Mind-set: For many of us, the transition will cause discomfort as it will require us to view and do things differently from what has made us successful so far. However, if a golfer thinks of the pond all the time, where do you think the ball ends up? All of us will need a mind-set to accept that change is coming, it is positive, with a ‘can-do’ attitude, that learning new things is crucial, and that we must challenge ourselves to pick up newer skills/newer ways of working.
- Training: We will need to learn new things and ways of working. Period. The company will, of course, offer us training, but all of us know that classroom training can only do so much for us. We need to go back and apply our learnings, be curious, invest personal time on online courses to upskill.
- Taking chances: Any change means we move out of our comfort zones and try new things. This is the hardest bit. So, we all need to be prepared to do that with a long-term view in mind.
Hence, in summary:
- The arrival of robots will impact all of us and make us anxious about our jobs
- If handled properly, this could positively impact our careers
- The responsibility is ours as management to ensure this transition is done smoothly
- The robots are here to stay, and so are we — if only we play our cards right. And we are in this together.