According to Harvard Business Review, most operations groups adopting Robotic Process Automation (RPA) have promised their employees that automation would not result in layoffs. Instead, workers have been redeployed to do more interesting work. One academic study highlighted that knowledge workers did not feel threatened by automation: they embraced it and viewed the robots as team-mates. The same study highlighted that, rather than resulting in a lower “headcount”, the technology was deployed in such a way as to achieve more work and greater productivity with the same number of people.

Conversely however, some analysts proffer that RPA represents a threat to the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. The thesis behind this notion is that RPA will enable enterprises to “repatriate” processes from offshore locations into local data centers, with the benefit of this new technology. The effect, if true, will be to create high value jobs for skilled process designers in onshore locations (and within the associated supply chain of IT hardware, data center management, etc.) but to decrease the available opportunity to low skilled workers offshore. On the other hand, this discussion appears to be healthy ground for debate as another academic study was at pains to counter the so-called “myth” that RPA will bring back many jobs from offshore.

Impact on society

Academic studies project that RPA, among other technological trends, is expected to drive a new wave of productivity and efficiency gains in the global labor market. Although not directly attributable to RPA alone, Oxford University conjectures that up to 35% of all jobs may have been automated by 2035.

In a TEDx talk hosted by UCL in London, entrepreneur David Moss explains that digital labor in the form of RPA is not only likely to revolutionise the cost model of the services industry by driving the price of products and services down, but that it is likely to drive up service levels, quality of outcomes and create increased opportunity for the personalization of services.

Meanwhile, Professor Willcocks, author of the LSE paper cited above, speaks of increased job satisfaction and intellectual stimulation, characterizing the technology as having the ability to “take the robot out of the human”, a reference to the notion that robots will take over the mundane and repetitive portions of people’s daily workload, leaving them to be redeployed into more interpersonal roles or to concentrate on the remaining, more meaningful, portions of their day.