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Robotic process automation: The new IT job killer?

Bob Violino | March 24, 2015
Robotic process automation has higher-value IT tasks in its cross-hairs but could be the best antidote to outsourcing yet.

IRPA touts the technology's potential to significantly reduce risk in regulatory reporting, thanks to improved analytics and increased data accuracy. But its estimate that RPA could save companies 20 to 40 percent in labor costs is sure to raise eyebrows, signaling RPA's clear potential to wreak havoc on the IT workforce.

"I would say most IT infrastructure support jobs will be eliminated over the next three years," Casale says. "I've already seen [deployments] where there was 60-plus percent labor automation."

This includes jobs related to IT help desks, data center and server support, network support, and other areas of IT maintenance. While the technology does not currently replace functions such as application development and maintenance, that's not to say future RPA technology won't be able to handle some of those tasks, Casale says.

If that sounds ambitious or even unlikely, it still underscores the ongoing evolution of automation toward higher-value jobs.

RPA is most likely to replace data entry and data rekeying or data assembly and formatting tasks, which are rules-based, Gartner's Tornbohm says. "Almost any type of computer-related process which is rules-based [and] which a human performs today could be affected at some point in its lifecycle, where [RPA] could mimic what a human does," she says. "It has affected IT in many ways, often in software testing."

Earlier advances in automation eliminated "blue collar jobs, ones we cannot even remember today, like tape changers," notes Chris Boos, CEO at RPA provider Arago. "RPA moves the focus of automation up the value chain. At the same time, demand for IT experts is growing for even higher-value jobs, because most companies are struggling to keep up with high-tech development, and this is why RPA is a relief to most IT people."

Robotic process automation in practice
Health care provider Ascension Health deployed an RPA system from Blue Prism in early 2014 when it needed a way to avoid time-consuming manual processes associated with its move to a new ERP platform.

"There is work that we refer to as 'swivel chair' activities, where we transfer data from one source into the ERP or one of the support systems," says A.J. Hanna, senior director of operations support at Ascension. "Despite the implementation of the standard ERP, there is still a large volume of local policy variability that has to be addressed."

The use of RPA didn't result in the elimination of jobs at the company, but the possibility "certainly exists" in the future, Hanna says. "The impact to frontline processing staff is the greatest potential change to our workforce," he says. "A large part of our focus is trying to find ways to be able to absorb the additional workload that we know is coming" without having to add staff.


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