Through the past decades, the idea of shared services has been evolving. In this concept, robotic process automation (RPA) has enhanced efficiency and human-machine collaboration to levels never experimented before. For years, we have seen the transformation of the manufacturing floor through the automation of manual and repetitive tasks. Nevertheless, several business owners have a wrong idea about the full capabilities available on the process automation, their efficiency and remaining competitive.
Innovative organizations have been deploying robotic process automation over the past several years, yet, the scalability, speed and cost are still some factors to be considered today. Despite the mentioned factors, the biggest challenges for global expansion of the process automation are not related with the technology limitation itself.
According to recent Forrester report , who analyzes the opinion of global digital decision makers:
- 25% said their company lacks an overall vision or strategy for automation.
- 26% were facing challenges with culture and change management.
- 25% believe there are gaps in their organizational structure, alignment, and readiness.
The reasons behind these results are varied. In some cases, enterprises unknowingly use similar types of automation in different parts of the organization. In other cases, the bottoms-up deployment method prevents scale and leads to governance nightmares. Overall, federated operating models are developing too slowly to keep pace with the growth of the technology.
An emerging field in the RPA is the intelligent automation (IA), increasing massively their digital transformation potential in the coming years. IA applications combine advanced cognitive technology, robotic automation and powerful analytics to deliver more human-centered capabilities such as: the ability to learn, apply judgement and recognize images & language. These advanced solutions can process unstructured commands and sift through massive amounts of information to discern patterns and relationships, continuously learning throughout their life.
Digital workers and human talent efficient collaboration become more vital. Digital workforce management and governance will become increasingly prevalent. All in all, intelligent automation is poised to take a significant leap and deliver tangible results to organizations that make automation a key component of their digital transformation. In the future, a well-run digitalize company is going to make sure that they are investing in their employees to ensure that as the technology evolves, the employees are evolving as well, feeling comfortable to embrace technologies in their daily activities and to be aligned with the company digital strategy and vision.
Nowadays, this collaborative environment where humans and robots share tasks in order to improve a common goal is represented by collaborative robots (common called cobots). Cobots are meant to operate in conjunction with, and in close proximity, to humans to perform their tasks. Indeed, unlike their more isolated counterparts, cobots are intentionally built to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. According to the Robotic Industries Association, cobots accounted for an estimated 3% of all robot sales in 2017 and it is expected to capture 34% of that market in the next seven years.
Today, the hardcore robotic adopters are still in the automotive and industrial solutions. Nevertheless, we can also find uses for cobots in logistics, supply chain, warehouse and retail & consumer industries. Pioneered robotics company such as KUKA, Universal Robots and Defunct have increased their footprint in industrial settings both large and small, working side-by-side with humans to assist them with tasks. Probably one of the most successful implementations today involves a KUKA LBR iiwa, which performs vital but monotonous engine inspections. The machine’s visioning system can be programmed to scan for discrepancies and then alert the nearby worker to fix electrical connections. This application is used on 16 lines across Ford engine plants, collecting data for the quality inspection and allowing designers to improve engineering and reduce faults in the future.
According to Brookings Institute report (see figure) the industries more affected by the automation will be food services, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture. That is the way most technology is set up and it is designed to perform a specific task. Jobs that focus on things like baggage handling at airports, loading inventory in warehouses or preparing food at restaurants are likely to be among the first to go. The impact of automation will be felt in almost all industries, but it will be most visible among lower-wage, lower-education roles in occupations characterized by rote work according to the same report.
Employees in operations can quickly learn how to configure, deploy and manage robots. Every day more and more organizations have applied automation solutions across their major business processes with transactional activity, including production, marketing, customer service and payroll administration. Employee skillsets, new safety protocols, budgeting and managing product workflows are some of the biggest challenges that manufacturers face when implementing industrial robotic automation systems. Every manufacturer will have unique challenges based on their industry and individual business model. Despite some negative opinions about the role of the robotic process automation on the workforce in the future, the main goal of technology advances is to make jobs easier and safer, to make employees’ tasks more stimulating and creative, to make companies more efficient and productive, but in order to realize this optimistic view, it will require real digital mindset by companies and leaders across the organizations. Digital technologies will transform job roles from entry-level all the way to the C-suite, as enterprises achieve new levels of efficiency and productivity. In particular, we will see new crossover between the chief human resources officer and chief information officer roles as organizations meld human and digital workers.
The RPA market will also undergo a reality check as enterprises pursuing digital transformation become more aware of the differences among processes, the range of automation technologies available and the importance of using the right tool for the job. RPA is most commonly thought as a productivity and efficiency tool to reduce or to eliminate repetitive manual processes. Nevertheless, RPA and other forms of automation will become a more visible part of information security strategies. Automation is becoming a bigger deal overall in security, especially as RPA is increasingly paired with more cognitive technologies. By automating certain processes, it will be potentially reduced the human element at the root of many risks.
The robotic process automation market will continue growing in the next years as more enterprises come to understand both the power of process automation overall and the number of legacy processes for which robotic process automation is an effective answer. PWC estimates that 45% of work activities can be automated, saving roughly $2 trillion in costs throughout the global workforce. Additionally, a recent Deloitte study explains that one robot is said to be able to do the work of two to three resources and costs anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. The worldwide market for robotic process automation services will grow to $12 billion in 2023 propelled by a need to establish governance and operating models around RPA platforms.
As many of other digital solutions, the robotic process automation has a flip side. Some technology-based studies anticipate that robotic process automation will entail widespread job loss. According to Brookings Institute study predictions, automation could disrupt 25% of the workforce, about 36 million jobs in the next few decades. Other sources predict that by 2030, 20 million manufacturing jobs could be displaced by robots based on Oxford Economics review. Each new robot installed replaces an average of 1.6 workers, and 1.7 million jobs have already been lost since 2000, the study reported. However, besides simply reducing costs, business leaders are achieving several other tangible benefits  such as: re-engineer core processes while driving functional automation; flexible operations with the ability to quickly be deployed to handle increased demand; relieving employees of the most onerous tasks, allowing them to refocus on higher-value activities and controls to ensure accuracy and enhancing controls through standardized rules.
In summary, it’s conceivable that robots will assume more trades jobs. We have a new opportunity to redefine labor and restore humanity and dignity to the workers who break their bodies to boost productivity. Human-centered approaches and collaborative robots could transform the industry of the future into a harmony and sustainable multiverse. The question for digital leaders and tech companies is: How much will they be compromised with this vision? We strongly believe in a better future supported by technologies as robotic process automation.
In future posts, we will be continue writing about technology and business trends for enterprises. Furthermore, we recommend consulting the following literature to continue your digital transformation journey:
- Designed for Digital: How to Architect Your Business for Sustained Success, MIT review
- The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives, by Simon & Schuster
- Artificial Intelligence: The Insights You Need, by Harvard Business Review
- The Year in Tech, 2021: The Insights You Need, by Harvard Business Review
- The Deep Learning Revolution, by MIT Press
- Competing in the Age of AI, by Harvard Review Press
The objective of this blog is to provide a personal vision of how digital transformation trends will be impacting in our daily activities, businesses and lifestyle.