Automation, RPA and AI - An Honest Stream of Consciousness
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one of the most talked about developments in automation today. However, surprisingly not many inside or outside the industry ever make the very close connection between Test Automation and RPA, despite fundamental similarities in concept and application. RPA, at its core is test automation extended beyond the realms of autonomy for software quality assurance purposes.
Indeed, during test automation, we aim to replicate static manual testing steps aimed at confirming software solutions are built as per requirements and no defects exist within a system. RPA extends this notion and aims to automate any static repetitive human interaction with a system. Of course, test automation is a bounded application utilised within the software development lifecycle, however RPA extends the same ideas to all human interactions by an individual on a computer.
This simple, but very powerful, distinction between the two is why senior executives, middle management and consultancies are extremely excited about RPA and it’s more intelligent sibling, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and why junior workforce have genuine concerns about their future in the workplace.
On the plus side, RPA fundamentally removes repetitive tasks from a workforce, ensuring staff can reprioritise their work to more challenging and critical activities. This in turn allows for a workforce’s scope to be drastically increased so more can be achieved with less time, money and resources. With very little initial investment and the correct implementation strategy, provided by specialist consultancies, RPA can achieve a very high level of return on investment. It’s for these reasons that many in the industry, especially senior leadership and middle management, are incredibly excited.
However, there are always two sides to most stories and where there are winners, there are undoubtedly going to be losers. Imagine all the roles out there that are simply a set of repetitive tasks that can be completely automated. What will those individuals do moving forwards? If we remove repetition, is there enough jobs for all?
Take for example the Online Chat services provided by many companies, operated by millions of people around the world. This is a very basic ask and response system where an operator answers questions regarding difficulties found by the user and assists them in performing specific tasks. Certainly, through RPA, the specific actions performed by operators for all users can be automated by autonomous robots in a secure manner. Furthermore, the set of responses provided by the operators can be accurately prepopulated and provided to the user with no need for any human interaction. Add the notion of AI into the mix and the responses improve over time with an influx of big data. Indeed, with quicker more accurate responses to users with very little delay in the service, it’s difficult to argue the need for people within the process. All this reminds me of the I-Robot scene where Will Smith’s character, who hates robots, describes a TV add where “a carpenter is making a beautiful chair. And then a robot comes in and makes a better chair twice as fast.” Indeed, most consumers in most industries will choose convenience and a good service above all else, including workers’ consequences thereof.
I personally believe that RPA and AI in the long run is a good technological development for all. For the masses it will allow for more streamlined services to be delivered in a fraction of the price and effort. However, given most of my career has been dedicated to delivering automation solutions to leading financial service clients, I could well be blamed for being biased. I must also note that, as with all new technologies, their success is heavily dependent on their successful implementation to yield the maximum benefits from the technology. This is essential. Too often I’ve seen poorly written automation solutions and stakeholders doubting their true benefits. Investing in the right talent will go a long way.
It is correct, the more we experiment with new RPA and AI technologies, the more ways of improving old tasks we find. It is also true that technology is expanding at an exceptional rate and we’re heading into uncharted territory, causing many to fear for their future. However, history has shown us that we’re very good at adapting. Change is always difficult, but new technologies should be welcomed and humanity will adapt as appropriate. Over time new industries will rise up and create new roles for people. In fact, a recent report published by Dell Technologies suggests that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet. With other reports purporting similar, this offers plenty of food for thought and every reason to continuing to invest in automation.
Written by Klevis Voka, Senior Consultant at Piccadilly Group