As technologies like robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent process automation (IPA) take on increasingly complex, routine tasks, hype and fear about the threat that automation poses to skilled continues to spread. Those concerns are increasing the challenges companies face when overcoming cultural obstacles to digital transformation.
Among those groups potentially threatened by RPA/IPA are the staff members usually associated with technology and innovation—IT workers. As a recent InfoWorld article suggests, eve the automaters are becoming automated, to a certain extent. But that’s not really anything new. Manual, time-consuming processes like data migration to a new ERP platform that can be automated by RPA certainly relieves IT of some of their duties—but those are the kind of time-killing tasks that prevent IT staff members from being innovators.
Much of the fear associated with process automation seems to confuse tasks with jobs, suggested that taking away the work that consumes our time will also diminish our value. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. When done right, for the right reasons, RPIA/IPA doesn’t just replace workers with software robots—it frees up staff members to do more meaningful work and improves the quality of life for ALL employees. Including those IT staff members who have their own share of drudgery to deal with.
At Artsyl Technologies, we leverage intelligent process automation to make the process of transforming unstructured data found in paper and electronic documents into information that can then drive a workflow for review/approval/transaction processing. It used to be that this process involved a certain amount of what InfoWorld calls “swivel chair work.” That’s because pre-RPA/IPA systems required a lot more time and effort to set up and configure, in a way that required an IT skillset. That meant a reliance on IT by other staff members for routine work where IT was necessary but didn’t provide a ton of added value.
Today, by contract, our docAlpha platform relies on IPA to learn from input/guidance provided by staff members in accounts payable or customer service when it encounters an exception. It then records and learns from that input so it can do a better job the next time it encounters a document it can’t identify or some other issue that requires the agility of a human mind.
Does that mean that IT is out of a job? Hardly. As the IT staff would tell you themselves, they have more important things to do.
It’s not a new argument of a new fear for workers to feel threatened by automation. Those issues pre-date modern computers as much as they pre-date the latest disruptive tools and technologies. Will these too potentially challenge workers to adapt? Absolutely.
The culture shift driven by this next wave of innovation will drive workers to look at dull routine work as something to be eliminated rather than tolerated. Busy work may be threatened with extinction. By not work itself.
The end game will NOT be the elimination of humans from the process, but the elevation of human knowledge work beyond dull repetitive tasks to work that requires creative thinking and innovation—things that we’ll all be more equipped to tackle when we can focus on the hard problems.
That’s the kind of work we can all look forward to, once the clutter and distractions of the routine is eliminated.