So welcome to the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. As the year comes to an end, it strikes me that the world is changing...and changing faster and faster than anyone knew was coming. We now recognize that the future of work looks very different than it did a few years ago. We aren’t living in the "Jetson’s age" just yet, but we are definitely living in a world that I only dreamed about as a child. Fast forward to today...I have a robot in my kitchen that keeps my grocery list, gives me National Public Radio News daily, is my food timer, sets appointments up in my calendar, reminds me when I need to do things, as well as tells me daily jokes, plays music, turns on and off my lights and makes sure I know when it is time to reorder my dog food.
My Amazon Echo, or Alexa, is my BFF at my house. She knows more about my likes and dislikes than my fiancé. She knows my grocery list, she knows what I like for music, she keeps track of my to-do’s and she is in charge of making sure my Christmas baking doesn’t burn. But more importantly, she helps the kids with homework, reminds them of their chores (yes, yawn, yawn) and so much more.
So how are you using robots in your business? How is RPA going to change the future of work and how we perform in the future? Yet alone, when we add cognitive to the solution what does the workforce look like for the future? Are we going to only need people who automate the work they do today or do we need to create a generation of future employees who "get" how the world might function? Will we one day have people come to a job interview and ask for a robot to be included in the offer to help streamline the repetitive tasks in a person's work? I reckon that day is near. I for one would love to have that kind of power on my desk on a daily basis. Wouldn't you?
Much has been written recently about robotics. If you Google it, the most common word you will see in articles about robotics is “hype.” In fairness, it’s generally in the form of a question…it it hype? Is it more than just hype? Is the promise of artificial intelligence finally here? For the past two years Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have become more prominent conversations at SIG Summits…and the word on the street is that these are no longer just futuristic concepts. They are real. Much of what is out there centers on the idea that automation is just a passing IT fad. But I’m not buying it. I’ve looked behind the curtain and I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. (Nothing like mixing a few metaphors.)
Concerns abound that automation will take away jobs, and in an era where we are still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession the threat of job loss is daunting…haunting even. But is that is the most important aspect of robotics? Yes, it could take jobs away but robotics are most easily applied to positions that are repetitive and process-oriented, so the premise is that the people in those jobs can then be redeployed to more strategic roles. Gartner uses the term “automation arbitrage” to describe RPA and in effect, that is just what it is. But there are so many more possibilities with it.
In all my years attending SIG and similar sourcing conferences (often from the outside looking in), I have never observed this degree of nervousness around a new innovation as that surrounding Robotics Process Automation (RPA). Speakers struggle with how much development background they should share before launching into the topic. Conference attendees eagerly lap up nuggets of information that can add to their meager understanding of the topic. And the few who "get it" seem to be oblivious to the general discomfort of mainstream sourcing professionals whenever robotics is mentioned.
Recently, during a trip to visit suppliers in India, I similarly noticed a strange awkwardness surrounding the marketing of both RPA and analytics. When developer/programmers are asked to explain product offerings, they trip over themselves a bit cautious that buyers may not be able to grasp the computer science, statistics or mathematics of the product offering, and consequently resort to demonstrating actual end-user applications without ever really saying, "We have a miracle here, and we want to share it with you! And there is so much more we can do each week!"