Effects of Automation in the Workplace
After WorkFusion hosted Forrester’s Craig Le Clair for a webinar on Building an Automation Framework for Digital Transformation, there were some very strong questions about the future of automated technologies, the effects of automation in the workplace and concerns on how to prepare for these. We thought we would offer some follow-up information from this very successful webinar with some additional answers to these pressing questions. Read on to learn more:
How does automation change the workplace and affect back-office jobs?
RPA is often focused on back-office work because it is hidden from the customer and allows organizations to just focus on finding the best way.
A goal in introducing robots in the workforce is to remove and expedite manual back-office work. While the overall goal is to produce more output with less work(ers) in a faster timeline, the more reasonable scenario is to manage higher output requirements with increased speed, so teams can get there without adding more people. At the core, however, is an ideal where the manual work can be automated to some degree, and the automated aspects can be done faster.
The main workplace automation idea is not just about removing the work, but also about standardizing and hardening the work. Automation programs often focus on larger projects — the ones where multiple tasks are being performed by several people. Having seen many of these projects, I can say that despite claims of standard processes, it’s often true that each person comes up with his or her own process on how to get the work done. By standardizing and formalizing the steps required, organizations can wrap best practices into each process that is automated, which creates further efficiencies.
Further, automation in business enhances the governance and enterprise control of the processes. Back-office work today often has some level of auditability built in, especially around who is doing the work. But the focus is often on what is done, not why or how performed. Because automation incorporates the logic and data involved, it increases transparency for each step of a process, providing the overall back-office operation more insight into itself.
Thus, workplace automation by means of RPA technology can have a large impact on the back office, beyond the work itself into the performance, optimization and transparency of that work.
Why do people fear RPA?
People fear RPA for many reasons, but I think you can summarize it by imagining a movie advertisement:
In a world, where robots are taking over the enterprise … Few people have jobs. Especially those who had performed “manual” work. Operations management has lost control. IT staff are constantly chasing robots… Coming soon — to YOUR company!
People doing the manual work today — by which I mean local SMEs and often off-shore resources, too — fear automated technologies because these could eliminate their jobs. It’s a valid concern, because the goal is to replace the work. However, my hope is that organizations and employees see workplace automation as an opportunity to focus on higher-value work, upskill for different work, and spread out the workload for less-demanding work burdens. This is optimistic in some cases, but rather than fearing robotics and automation in the workplace and longing for a comfortable, never-changing environment, people need to take control of their future work while robots take over their current work.
Operations management and executives, as well as process owners, perceive workplace automation as a massive disruption of their daily operations — and it is! The age of finding cheaper labor to do the same work for less money is over. Yes, this involves bringing in even more automated technologies, and yes, it means organizations will likely have fewer people. Power in these groups should not be reserved for those who manage or employ the most people, but instead reward those able to produce the largest output with the most efficient total workforce, which can be a hybrid of human and digital workers. And, this comes with more control, not less, as leading software tools allow full audit of logic and outputs, often to a higher degree than current approaches can.
The IT function fears robots running amok: uncontrolled, ungoverned and inefficient. They realize their project backlogs are long, which has led to instances of rogue buying where they can’t prioritize their time (i.e. Shadow IT). But the most confusing thing about robots is that they can be too quick and easy to build: Non-software folks can build them with minimal training. If not used properly, this additional automation can easily overload core systems, pushing them beyond what they are supposed to support. While that’s a valid concern, IT folks should push towards centralized software approaches and organizational governance to ensure these robots in the workforce are known and regulated correctly.
Each group impacted by RPA can likely justify their fears, but there are answers and approaches to pacify these concerns and positively impact organizations.
How do you train people on automation?
Since automation software is easily accessible, my best advice for training would be to follow a “Fire, Ready, Aim” approach.
Fire: Just try it, similarly to how Greg Myers, corporate VP and CIO at Motorola Solutions did on his winter vacation. There’s no need to fear it or get into a costly procurement process just to try it. Download, install and automate. It is that simple.
Ready yourself by getting educated. You can probably make a bot or two with limited training (or no training at all), but eventually you will want to gain a deeper understanding of costs and benefits of automation in the workplace, determine how to prepare your organization for automated technologies, and start acquiring the skills across your organization to deliver automation in business. Automation training programs, such as Automation Academy, are great resources for readying yourself.
Aim first for production, then for formalizing the overall program. RPA software works: You don’t need to prove the concept with a PoC, and many others have already done this before you. Find a way to get to production on automating work that provides value back to the organization, then find ways to scale across the organization, and while doing so, training your organization on preparing for workplace automation.
Fire, Ready, Aim — the faster way to train on automation.