Will software robots replace humans?

Automation of business processes via RPA is one of the main trends in the field of corporate software in the world.

According to Gartner research, robotic process automation is the fastest growing segment of the software market. Gartner predicts that in the coming years, about 72% of organizations will use software robots to automate routine and structured processes.

A robot is a software, that is, we are talking about a special case of automation and it is important to understand this in order not to mystify the technology. The so-called robots, which are presented in the form of application software, act as an automation tool.

Visually, robots work in the likeness of a person, that is, the robot controls the cursor, presses buttons, reads and writes emails, types text, and all this is visible on the computer monitor screen. This is one of the main features of the technology. Technically, the robot's work is similar to the work of a script written in the VBA language, for example, in the form of a macro.

Robots have become popular due to their high efficiency in automating routine processes and high speed of implementation. We can say that robots are a kind of" last mile " of automation. When most of the processes are already automated through traditional systems (ERP, CRM, HR management, AIS, etc.), but there is a routine work of people in the systems, it is at this moment that there is a need for point automation of "small" processes through robots.

In the world, as in the Russian Federation and in Kazakhstan, today the leading industries for the implementation of RPA are: banks and financial institutions, energy and mining industry.

Robots are most often used to automate back-office processes, which is confirmed by the statistics of the use of robots in the Russian Federation:

  • Accounting and tax accounting are the undisputed leaders in use of RPA. Often, companies use RPA for generating accounting reports from accounting systems, reconciliation procedures between several systems (for example, reconciliation of ESF in the accounting system with data on the ESF portal).
  • HR and IT management are the next most popular processes. One of the most popular applications of RPA in HR is the processing of applications for vacation/business trip with the formation of an order in the accounting system and the subsequent accrual of funds. In IT, robots are used for administration and monitoring processes (creating and blocking accounts, monitoring the health of systems).
  • Legal processes are less popular for robotization. Less attention is paid to the direction of legal services due to the greater popularity and knowledge of accounting and tax accounting processes, as well as personnel processes. Also, the main difference between legal processes is working with text, and not with numbers/values.

Legal processes in companies are not sufficiently regulated from the point of view of automation, so the low rate of robotization in this area is caused by the difficulty of identifying a suitable process for robotics and calculating the effectiveness of implementing a robot.

Automation and job reduction

About 100 years ago, the telegraph was a breakthrough in the field of communications. The telegram was a real event. The postman rang the doorbell, handed over an envelope. But only the head of the family could read the telegram. They searched for his glasses for a few minutes, then he first read the message to himself, and then read it out loud. The telegram informed about the death, about the birth, congratulated on the holidays. Today it is easier to do this — you can send a text message or a message in social networks, messengers.
Progress and the technological revolution did not stand still. Telegraph operators were replaced by telephone operators, the number of messengers inevitably and rapidly decreased. New specialties have appeared, such as signalmen and telecommunications engineers. Naturally, the number of such engineers was significantly less than the "retired" postmen.

New professions required academic knowledge. Departments of radio engineering and communications began to appear in universities.
Today we are witnessing the so-called "digital revolution". Digitalization and automation free up the labor force, increasing labor productivity, thereby making people, companies and countries more competitive. Against this background, the forecasts of research companies also seem unsurprising.

For example, Forrester analysts in 2017 predicted that by 2027, job losses due to automation will amount to about 7%. McKinsey in a 2017 study predicts that about 15% (400 million jobs) may be released due to automation.

It should also be noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for digitalization. A striking example is the labor markets of developed countries. Due to higher requirements for quarantine and working conditions, corporations are investing more in automation and robotics in order to reduce dependence on human labor and reduce operating costs.
Hence, we can assume, no matter how sad it may sound, that the estimates of research agencies are very conservative.

Will robots replace people? Of course, yes. Robots and technologies are designed to replace people in areas of activity subject to automation, provided that this automation is appropriate. Well, as noted above, technologies contribute to the emergence of new jobs and professions. In the case of robots, we are talking about robot developers, administrators and RPA operators.

Should we be afraid of them? I think that it is no more than the automation systems that have become traditional, for example, accounting systems, etc.
And the point here is that the main area of application of robots (here we are talking only about RPA) at the moment is the processes of the back office of companies, mainly accounting, HR, procurement, treasury, operational activities in banks.

Robots (yet) are not endowed with the ability to perform complex human judgments based on experience, intuition, creative component, so only a certain part of the processes is subject to robotization.

Today, RPA software robots are used in 90% of cases to perform repetitive monotonous work. We can say that software robots are "hands" without "brains". I think that in the future 5-10 years we will observe the development of technologies in this direction. That is, robots will become more intelligent and the range of their applications will expand significantly.

It is obvious that in the near future we will witness the teamwork of people and machines. According to a study by Dell Technologies, 82% of manufacturing managers expect closer integration of people and machines on the horizon of five years.

I am fairly sure that it is not RPA robots (even with artificial intelligence) that should be feared, but those technologies that will make the effect of job cuts more significant and dramatic. For example, cars controlled autonomously by computers or robots. The combination of this technology with online taxi services can lead to the loss of jobs of millions of people.

But not everything is as bad as it seems, quite effective efforts in the field of education, retraining of specialists and the increasingly discussed unconditional basic income can offset the effect of job losses. There is time to prepare for this right now. Well, as they say, human genius is limitless, so let's break through!

Mukhamedzhan Dusenov, Director of Business Development at Seiko Labs (renamed to Python RPA)