Disruption on Steroids: Notes from the Robosphere

The prevailing notion that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an “industry game-changer” was reinforced for me in a big way recently, when I had the distinct privilege of co-chairing Automation Innovation 2014. Sponsored by the Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA), the conference gathered buyers, providers, practitioners and thought leaders to discuss topics ranging from long-term societal implications of intelligent computers to near-term impacts on labor arbitrage-based service delivery models.*

Perhaps the most valuable lesson from this day-long learning experience was the humbling realization of how much more homework we all need to do. In addition, I was struck by a number of specific observations various speakers offered regarding new ways of looking at smart machines and how they are changing our world. These nuggets of insight helped to crystallize my thinking around what these changes look like and to articulate some of the questions we need to ask in order to more effectively help our clients and partners navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities that await.

For example, we’ve tended to look at autonomics as driving a certain percentage reduction in personnel requirements, and you tend to visualize that as a straightforward decrease in staffing numbers. In his presentation, Phil Fersht of HfS Research argued that the point is not that RPA will reduce a staff of 100 to a staff of, say, 60. Rather, it’s that a staff of 100 will have their individual workloads reduced by 40 percent each, as certain mundane and repeatable functions are off-loaded to smart machines. It’s a subtle distinction, perhaps, but an important one, as it allows you to envision change from a new perspective. Specifically, you can now ask, what new and different things can my staff do with 40 percent more capacity? How can I reconfigure my processes and delivery model to best leverage that increased capacity?

Entrepreneur Hans-Christian Boos, Founder and CEO of arago, offered a similarly fresh take. Rather than thinking in terms of RPA delivering cost reduction, he suggested we think of it as creating time. Here again, you have a different lens through which to view the potential for redefining service models and delivering value in a way that’s truly transformational.

So maybe that idea of a “different lens” is the real point here – with RPA, autonomics and intelligent computers (or whatever else you want to call them), you’re not talking about applying technology to do what you’re doing better. You’re talking about doing things in a completely new and different way. And we’ve reached a point where the next step is to show (rather than tell) what that “completely new and different way” looks like.

In any event, those of us who are serious about making a mark in this space have our work cut out for us. Let’s get to it.

*Hats off to IRPA Founder and CEO Frank Casale for having the vision and chutzpah to launch the IRPA enterprise, and to his team for putting on a first-rate event in NYC from beginning to end.

About the author

Chip is a recognized outsourcing industry expert, committed to helping clients understand and respond to emerging trends and disruptive technologies, such as the nascent field of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). As an industry thought leader, Chip is a regular speaker and panelist on the impact of innovation and the myriad challenges of change management.