Intelligent automation initiatives – more specifically, robotic-process automations – have had great short-run results at large and medium enterprises globally in the past four to five years. We’ve all heard the success stories at trades shows and conferences:
- An accounting team of three CPAs at Company A is now able to do the work of five full-time employees.
- One CFO at Enterprise B tasked with hiring 300 back-office, data-entry FTEs hired only 200 humans and 100 robots instead.
- General disarray within some HR processes at Government Contractor C is more standardized and efficient.
Process automation is making its mark in all industries and the once-shiny object is actually paying off in real ways. As these new technologies take hold, however, many are fearful that robots will start replacing human employees.
Let’s fast-forward 5 or 10 years and take a look at these same automations and the businesses leveraging them:
- Company A has doubled in size but still has only three CPAs. This is the kind of increased capability we dream about when we implement intelligent automation. The ROI just keeps getting better and better. Company A obviously has the infrastructure and proper center of excellence in place to handle the new scale. No employees have ever been replaced.
- Enterprise B has downsized its back-office operations and needs only half the human workforce, but kept the full onslaught of robots. Although the rate of efficiency has dropped, automation is still a key part of its operations. Slower business has taken its toll here, but no human FTEs were replaced by robot workers at any stage.
- Government Contractor C has a larger automation presence and therefore needs fewer people in the HR department. This case presents our biggest dilemma for the future: Will robots replace human FTEs?
The short answer is “almost never.” Even though Government Contractor C has grown and relies on automation more than ever, the need increased at a slower rate than attrition. Each time an HR employee left the department, the gaps of missing hours were filled initially by other employees and eventually by automated work. No humans were terminated. The work became efficient enough that it was able to be performed by robots over an extended period of time.
It is, in fact, a rare case that human employees are terminated because automation has made their jobs an unnecessary expense. This seems to fly in the face of the logic that automation was introduced to save money, increase capability and, ultimately, reduce FTEs. The reason why both statements are true is, again, because the rate at which digital workers have penetrated the workforce is slower than the rate at which people leave the company. Like computers and most technology, the macroeconomic effect will be to replace human workers in the back office. The nature of free markets allows for shifts in the labor market organically. New jobs arise, some of which are managing digital workforces and developing new automations, but all of which are jobs both better suited for and more interesting to humans.
The long-term benefit of agile work teams and incremental releases as applied to automation development is that human work can be slowly and permanently replaced by robots. This method, currently in place throughout the labor force, is better for CFOs’ bottom lines and entry-level employees’ job security.
The myth that automation will force workers out of their current jobs is simply just that. What we can expect in the future is a new and improved, highly efficient and highly accurate hybrid workforce. In the same way that calculators and computers have universally advanced business processes, expect intelligent automation to change the business landscape and the way we work.