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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.

As the company moves more into the automation of rules-based activities, "We anticipate that it will provide staffing reduction opportunities," Hanna says. "Each of these opportunities will have to be viewed within the context of the known increase in workload volumes that will be coming in 2015 to determine potential impacts to staffing levels."

While Ascension anticipates the potential for staffing reductions, "our goal with RPA is to be able to take on additional work without the need to add staff," Hanna says. "Any reductions that may come from the use of RPA would be handled through normal attrition."

Another company, IT services provider CGI, less than a year ago began working with three RPA providers -- Thoughtonomy, Celaton, and Innovise -- for various aspects of process automation. The two main drivers for the project were to achieve increased efficiency across IT and business processes, as well as customer service improvements, says Danny Wootton, innovation director at CGI.

"It hasn't necessarily been about cost reduction, but more about better service and improving the effectiveness of our people," Wootton says.

CGI has seen reduced efforts across a range of activities, from simple password resets to more complex logic-based activities such as payroll and help-desk problem resolution. Like Ascension Health, the firm at this stage hasn't seen RPA affect the makeup of the IT workforce. "But it may well be something we need to think about in the future," Wootton says.

The silver lining
Experts say RPA doesn't represent all gloom for tech workers. For one, the technology itself will provide opportunities because organizations will need people who are skilled in implementing, managing, and maintaining the programs.

"There is going to be a need for new skill sets in lower and middle management, for people who are able to work with RPA platforms and understand how to manage them," IRPA's Casale says. He has talked with people who worked in IT support and were displaced by RPA systems who received training and went on to become experts in process automation.

In addition, companies could move some of the displaced workers into more interesting and challenging types of jobs -- either in IT or other areas of the business.

"Absolutely will [RPA] free up time to do more important and more demanding jobs in IT," Arago's Boos says. "The demand for experienced IT people is so incredibly high and cannot be fulfilled by the current supply from universities and other education programs. Especially on the experience side, moving people up the value chain is most important, and RPA will be a major enabling factor here."

Ascension Health has been able to free up some workers to focus on more complex activities, Hanna says. The company's goal is to cross-train or up-skill as many operations workers as might be displaced by the use of RPA, Hanna says. "In some ways, we see the use of RPA as having a greater potential to retain levels of staffing that you might not have if you outsourced the entirety of the work to a traditional BPO," he says.


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