A March 2015 article in InfoWorld called “Robotic Process Automation: The New IT Job Killer?” describestheexperiences of companies that have taken automation to a new level, taking on responsibilities associated with higher-skilled and better paying positions like IT. One example is Health care provider Ascension Health, who deployed a robotic process automation (RPA) system 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.”
While the title if Infoworld’s article was sensational, the experiences it described for real life companies didn’t reflect the article’s horror story title. The use of RPA didn’t result in the elimination of IT jobs at Ascension (though Hanna was quoted as saying “the possibility certainly exists in the future”).
The fear associated with eliminating routine, manual tasks, whether in Information Technology, Accounts Payable or anywhere else in an organization certainly isn’t unfounded. But the motivation to implement automation goes beyond cost savings and staff reductions. In fact, for many projects, the motivation is to improve the quality of service—as well as the quality of life for employees. Including IT employees.
Automation and Quality of Life
In the article, InfoWorld also highlighted the experiences of IT services provider CGI, whose motivations and results are typical of many automation initiatives. “It hasn't necessarily been about cost reduction, but more about better service and improving the effectiveness of our people,” says Danny Wootton, innovation director at CGI. Like Ascension, CGI’s automation initiatives did not impact staffing or hiring.
At Artsyl Technologies, we have embraced the robotic process automation approach in our development of docAlpha, our Smart Process Platform for intelligently transforming contentfrom scanned paper and digital documents into structured data that can inform and drive automated processes. Historically, the challenge with extracting information from unstructured documents was the inflexibility of systems that required too much time and effort to set up and configure--and could only provide results within relatively narrow parameters.
By taking a more flexible approach, docAlpha can learn and adapt, working in concert with knowledge workers to take on routine tasks so the humans can perform more value-added work.
While customers often talk to us about the value of efficiency gains, the typical conversation is about how a growing company can manage their accounts payable processes with the same staff, rather than adding people. Instead, they are often able to elevate the roles of loyal employees who have proven their value and demonstrated their dedication by helping to find better, more innovative ways to do their jobs.
Emphasizing the Knowledge in Knowledge Worker
Taking an approach that allows software and technology to assist human knowledge workers, and to learn and adapt to different document formats and different conditions, will ultimately lead us to a world where using a keyboard to enter data into a computer from a paper or electronic document will seem unworthy of a person’s time and energy.
The goal is NOT to eliminate humans from the process, but to ELEVATE their roles beyond routine tasks to more rewarding challenges and opportunities. Change can be frightening, but a world where we can all contribute in more meaningful ways to better results sounds like a promising one for everyone.