The robots are coming – but humans are still needed

When thinking about robots in the workplace, we imagine something out of a sci-fi movie, a metal figure – cute or menacing, depending on if you are watching Terminator or Wall-E.

However, the reality is that most robots in the workplace are unlikely to take corporeal form at all – most likely they are (or will be) robotic process automation (RPA).

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.

Huh? What does that mean in the real world? 

Put simply, RPA is a software program that is capable of machine learning. 

Examples are registering new patients in healthcare, processing credit card application in financial services or administering employee benefits in HR functions. 

Just look at these: 

A Vancouver-based startup company that makes a free cloud-based accounting application has introduced what it calls MagicBot into its product. MagicBot is trained to review bills, receipts and other documents saved in a Dropbox folder, and create accounting transactions from those files. Another New Zealand based software publisher recently introduced a similar application to categorize invoices based on what it’s “learned” about the way a business operates.

Robotic Process Automation – the benefits

In the corporate world, less than 10% of typical business functions have full-scale RPA, however, the active use is growing. And repetitive, process driven tasks as the mainstay for shared service functions are a prime target. 

The benefits that businesses are looking for are not surprising:

  • to save time on repetitive tasks
  • reduce risk and improve compliance with protocols
  • improve work quality as less manual work reduces the risk of errors
  • improved process effectiveness

but they are missing an opportunity…

Missing the opportunity

While RPA can no doubt deliver great benefits in the areas described above, the focus on time and cost savings ignores potentially much greater benefits:

  1. Simplifying processes and reduce business complexity. For example, simplifying communication flows reduces the risk of errors, omissions and misinterpretations of information. 
  2. Making a business more agile. As processes become simpler, adapting to external changes and taking action becomes easier. This only works, of course, if the business has the human capability to rule the RPA – not the other way around.
  3. Reinventing the business model. Forward-thinking businesses will look at how their customers will use RPA and what means for the service they provide these customers. Outsourcing providers are the obvious example here, but the same is true for lawyers and accountants.

Most importantly, though, when organisations focus only on the savings RPA can bring, they focus on removing humans. Cost cutting, reorganisation, redundancies. 

That means they are missing the opportunity to tap into the creative intelligence of their people. In this context, they are not thinking about freeing up human capacity which could be used to leverage creativity and human judgement. This makes them less smart, less creative and even less agile. 

All things you should avoid if you want to survive in the future.


Miriam Gilbert, Coincidencity

I am focused on re-humanising work – one organisation at a time. I am a consultant, entrepreneur, thought leader, speaker and change agent who has made a life out of exploring how to make organisations better – better for themselves, their people and society.

As a consultant and coach, I help leaders plot their course through complex, demanding environments and explore what the future of work could do for their organisation.

If you want to create positive, sustainable change in your organisation, truly engage your people and look to the future of work with confidence or if you are looking for a speaker with new insights about how to build a better business for your next event – call, email or LinkedIn message me to arrange a chat.

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