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Don't fear the robots, embrace the potential

Stephanie Overby | May 8, 2017
Robotic process automation is not necessarily replacing human workers, but creating more capacity and the potential for employees to focus on higher-value activities.


Taking the long view

To date, most corporate leaders have focused on the cost reduction that the application of RPA can enable by reducing reliance on labor and outsourcing. Therefore, some leaders have been eager to eliminate processes and roles as soon as possible. But that's a shortsighted approach, says Nelson. "The longer-term implications regarding talent retention and employee development are not being adequately addressed as the mad scramble for the cost savings tends to take priority over the impact of automation on the culture of the organization and considerations regarding the journey toward becoming a digital enterprise."

RPA is typically deployed by line-of-business leaders rather than IT who see it as an easy way to eliminate costs while improving speed, accuracy and auditability. And since there's no need to program these robots, IT often times is only involved in provisioning the infrastructure and making sure the solution is deployed using the right architecture.

IT leaders that want to remain relevant during this period of automation will build automation skillsets within their organizations, says Nelson "with a focus on agile deployment of automation working alongside business unit executives rather than positioning IT as a technology control center for what gets deployed."

Of course, IT itself is being increasingly automated. According to an ISG survey cited in the report, 43 percent of IT leaders indicated that automation of operations will have the biggest impact on their IT spending through 2019. And roughly 7 out of 10 IT and business leaders feel IT will be the support function most impacted by automation by 2019.


Paving the way for new roles

IT and business leaders can do a much better job explaining the benefits of automation to employees, addressing their natural concerns, and clearing up misconceptions. "Automation is about taking the robot out of the employee by eliminating work that is standardized, rules-based, and process-heavy," says Nelson. RPA can create more time for employees to handle customer-facing tasks that only humans can handle. It can increase accuracy and speed in the areas in which it is deployed. Automation will pave the way for new jobs focused on digital transformation, analysis, and delivering increased insight. RPA can also "reduce the use of outsourcing and offshoring as a labor arbitrage strategy by bringing work back onshore to be managed by humans interfacing with digital workforces," says Nelson.

Organizations that want to retain key talent during this shift to automation can consider the following:

  • Identifying those inside the organization willing and able to take on new roles.
  • Creating training opportunities to help employees embrace and support digital operating models and technologies.
  • Collaborating with high schools, colleges and universities to define future talent and skill requirements.
  • Creating innovation pods (small cross-functional groups) where employees can brainstorm and create the new roles that will deliver higher value to the company. 


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