White collar automation has been happening for a very long time. Robotics is a cool name for efficient software that has led to the creation of a new stream called Robotics Process Automation (RPA). RPA eliminates mundane and tedious tasks freeing workers to focus on higher value work. Since the 4-5 years of its evolution, RPA is now the buzzword for CTOs and CFOs as it delivers 30-40 percent savings and operational efficiency in the first year of adoption and continues to improve efficiencies thereafter. Some of the leading industries adopting RPA in the West are financial services, healthcare and banking. In India, the adoption is slower, but definitely consistent.
Since I wanted to understand RPA (and kept confusing it with humanoid robots co-existing with humans at work), I spoke to David Poole, Co-founder and CEO of Symphony Ventures, and Ganesh Iyer, CEO, India Operations, at Symphony Ventures. Symphony Ventures transforms back office processes of large enterprises by employing new-gen technologies like RPA. Our discussion mostly covers job transformations due to technology and skills of the future. We also delve a little into the funny side of bots.
Talk about what happens to people who lose their jobs due to advancements in technology?
David: I can talk from the perspective of the US and Europe – most of the companies that invest in RPA are growing and they also have customers that are becoming more demanding. Everyone is talking about customer experience and better engagement and I think in the vast majority of places where we are working, we are taking away the mundane work. I am talking of large banks, healthcare and large global payroll companies which are now focusing more on providing better service to their customers. There have definitely been some places where there have been loss of roles, but in most cases the employers have made a deliberate decision not to fire, but rehabilitate employees in different roles. This is in the context of four years of post-banking crisis but growth and near full employment in the US and the UK.
Ganesh: If you look at the Indian market, there are different pockets, as we know. Three-four years back we thought that the bots are coming and will take away our jobs. But today, nothing of that has happened. That is because, recruitment in some companies might have stopped, as they do not need more people, but the attrition has been compensated by automated projects. If you look at it, the net productivity of the employees has gone up. If you critically evaluate, you will notice that the most impacted are the middle managers – people in their late 30s, early 40s because they have been doing things a certain way. It is important people realise that the skills of the past are not necessarily the skills of the future. The only thing I would like to caution people about (especially in white-collared service jobs), is the feeling of ‘I am sorted in life.’ This is not the age of our parents or grandparents and we have to keep evolving every three to five years.
What are the skill sets of the future?
David: In general, I think there is a shift in having to continuously learn. In the West, the companies that are going to be most successful are those that have happy employees. Labour will drift towards employers that are employee-friendly.
Ganesh: Our education system is a rote system, but going forward a lot of self-learning will have to take place. Employees will have to view themselves as a customer. You expect a lot from a company that is providing a particular product or service – it has to be quick and reliable, so is the future evolving employee. However, what will come to the fore is the emotional quotient. Roles and new skills are being created.
What is the Future of Work for the RPA industry?
David: We are going to go way beyond RPA. RPA is just the beginning. There will be a disruption in services, cars for example will become services. There will be so much disruption in technology with the diversity in work, that the future of work in our industry will become incredibly exciting. There will be a shortage of talent, as a lot of people will have to be trained in the new evolving technologies which will take a significant amount of time.
Ganesh: I look at it from two dimensions, one is how we are served as customers and the second is about how we serve our customers. So, for the industries that serve us, consumer-facing industries as we call it, there will be a significant change in the way we will consume things. It is going to be a consumption industry. It will be driven by social changes where people will not be buying assets anymore. When that happens, consumption patterns will create a new industry, which will drive the way we work. From our point of view, as service providers, we are always on the lookout for new technologies that will drive change. We are still at the periphery to discover all the new technology that will come up.
Why should large industries adopt new technologies – especially where there is resistance?
David: It comes down to the funding model, essentially. In the US, for example, all hospitals are private and for profit, they have been quicker at adopting newer technologies. However, in the UK, healthcare is public and they have been slower to adopt newer technologies. Industries like manufacturing too have a slower adoption. However, we have seen faster adoption by banks and insurance companies. There is not any sector that we have not worked in but certainly, financial services, banking and healthcare are the early adopters.
Ganesh: In India, if you look at it, we are an economy struggling for growth, industries are changing their business models to engage more with their consumers and with that comes technology and changing skillsets and what we have noticed is that most industries maintain a status quo. Technology adoption and streamlining processes follow growth and hence it is growth that they initially target. There is no intent to adopt RPA aggressively from Indian companies serving the India market.
Is there anything funny about bots?
David: Robots do what they are told! I know of any instance where bots handed over two phones instead of one and then the humans did not return the second phone to the provider. We should think of robots as augmenting human capabilities.
Can robots become more intelligent than humans?
David: Robots, no. AI could – it is what they call technological singularity. It is a long way, but, yes, it could happen.
Ganesh: The distinctiveness could come when a machine would become empathetic! Robots could definitely compute faster, but they cannot beat humans where empathy is concerned. It is probably easier to make a human a robot, than a robot human!
Nisha Ramchandani is the principal author of 'The Future of Work' series.
Published Date: Jul 26, 2019 03:07 PM | Updated Date: Jul 26, 2019 03:07 PM IST