In the age of automation, will the future of workforce be man vs machine or man + machine?

With the march of automation upon us, the future of workforce in the machine age is a hotly contested topic with job insecurity being at the forefront of the debate. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) striding into the mainstream and advances in machine learning playing a larger role in everyday life, the workforce ecosystem is getting upended with automation creeping in areas meant for highly-trained IT specialists. It’s not just the factory floor jobs that are on the chopping block. The impact will be seen on white collar, specialist IT related tasks as well.

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) as defined by Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence —  the application of technology that enables employees in a company to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to capture existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulate data, communicating with other digital systems is snatching Indian IT jobs. In other words, high volume IT tasks can be automated, ruling out the need for low-cost IT workforce.

Indian service providers are riding high on automation wave

Indian IT bellwether Infosys that pioneered the traditional outsourcing model has stepped up the game in BPM (Business Process Management ) by integrating Nia with RPA and cognitive automation capabilities.  Wipro too, that earned its stripes in the global outsourcing model is now putting its might behind Holmes and scaling up the deployment of the AI platform across clients. According to Wipro CEO Abidali Neemuchwalla, cognitive automation and RPA will drastically change the traditional IT delivery model.  

And TCS is betting big on Ignio positioned as a neural automation platform deployed across the globe in retail and supply chain operations. While the financial and retail sector has the first mover advantage in RPA, sectors such as healthcare and manufacturing are also fast catching up. According to Genpact, over 50% of the company’s enterprise clients have either invested in or are actively considering investing in RPA.

Is investing in RPA adoption worth it?

From speed of execution to accuracy and the cost savings – up to 55% savings for rules based processes, RPA adoption is helping businesses free up their human resources by enabling them to focus on higher priority jobs. Enterprises that are integrating RPA with next-gen technologies such as NLP, machine learning are seeing greater benefits of intelligent automation. Here’s a case in point – a financial service company applies the next-gen tech to the loans underwriting process. In this scenario, NLP reads the financial statements that are out there on the public domain and the robotics process creates a customer profile sheet. Dynamic workflow ensures the company reviews the scoring models for more accurate decision making.

With business-led automation seeping into workflows, the benefits are obvious. A Nelson Hall report states that while RPA is key to fixing static legacy rule-based processes, next-gen machine learning-based “Services-as-Software” platforms such as Ignio can be deployed for judgment-based processes in support of new business models.

Man vs Machine or Man + Machine

The reigning sentiment amongst IT pundits is that even if machines take over certain jobs, it won’t spell the end of all jobs. In fact, automation, such as in the case of driverless cars is positioned in the co-pilot mode with AI automating certain tasks, leaving scope for human to take over in a tenuous situation. In the future, we will see the rise of a more collaborative workforce. With algorithms and computing power improving rapidly, where does this leave our Indian IT talent? Analytics has emerged as a saving grace and with India’s expertise as a service provider, Indian IT companies can help clients globally access data from automated processes.

According to a World Economic Forum report, while jobs will be lost, 2 million jobs in the field of computer, mathematics and engineering will also be added over a period of time.  While the narrative around automation is centred on bottoming out of jobs, especially in sectors like manufacturing ain retail, automation will spur growth and innovation with the creation of skilled jobs.

With the shift towards an automation-driven economy, data analysts, hardware engineers and data architects will be in huge demand to manage petabytes of data generated and manage data pipelines. So, it’s no longer about protecting old jobs, but creating new jobs and skills that are aligned with the demands of the future economy.  

With more data being generated from customers, processes, transactions and sensors, there is a need for specialized talent to train the machine learning systems. Over the years, we will see the rise of automation technologists who will have deep subject matter expertise on cognitive computing and social robotics. Also, with AI doing all the heavy-lifting, there will be a significant growth in jobs such as data scientists, data analysts, automation specialists and even robot supervising professionals who will observe the gaps made by machines. With more humans working alongside robots in the future, psychologists believe that talent management will also require a massive rethink with new policies being written on how to combine human and automated roles effectively and responsibly.

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