CAD software changed design — RPA will change business

'Automation anxiety' might be a thing — but we also know disruption drives us into new territories.
6 February 2020

RPA adoption is on the rise for global domination. Source: Shutterstock

Storytelling — whether books, cinema or even political spins — often thrive on the human fear of usurpers. The ancient Greeks called them ‘tyrants’. In Planet of the Apes, usurpers took the form of highly-evolved apes. 

In the business world today, the usurper is often regarded as the cold hand of automation, and ‘automation anxiety’ — ultimately, that robots could take our jobs — is a concept pedaled by countless articles, reports, surveys, and opinion pieces. 

Following the narrative, it’s usually lower-ranking employees that are at most imminent risk; it’s the menial, coalface work that automation technology will take first, and this corresponding group of workers will be the first to lose relevance. 

In reality, there won’t be an overnight automation overhaul that leaves workers out in the cold — automation will take hold gradually. Some roles will shift in the process, but not so abruptly that swathes of workers will be rounded up and dismissed.  

In contrary to the stark outlook often drawn by business and technology press, many roles may simply be relieved from the burden of repetitive work, and be redrafted to focus on more valuable work — the creative or empathetic work that machines are (currently) less capable of. 

Drill into the key technologies defining the automation ubermensch, and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) software is high on the list. By 2025, global spend on RPA is predicted to hit more than US$3 billion as organizations leverage its ability to automate routine business tasks around the clock and with zero error. 

Adoption will be quickened thanks to the rise of low-code or no-code platforms. There are plenty on the market already; UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, to name a few, while tech giants such as IBM, Microsoft, and Google have also edged into the market.

When poorly presented by an organization, RPA can be seen as a threat by employees. The software is good at shouldering repetitive, non-intuitive, process-driven tasks that are characterized by a definable pattern that can be digitally-tracked and then subsequently emulated.

The RPA ‘kill zone’ (to use some of the hyperbole) is therefore wide. In blue-collar industries, it’s capable of automating processes in operations management, supply chain logistics, hardware maintenance, and quality control. 

But many tasks in white-collar roles such as insurance underwriters or accountants can also be taken on. For instance, insurance company AXA claims it was able to free up 18,000 people hours, saving an estimated value of US$182,000 with RPA. 

The success stories of RPA bring both admiration and fear among the workplace, but as Kyron Systems’ CEO Harel Tayeb points out, the disruptive anxiety-inducing capabilities of RPA must be viewed positively, and we can look back on the past for reassurance. 

In an interview with TechHQ, Tayeb compared RPA to the CAD (computer-aided design) software that revolutionized the design and engineering landscape. Initially, many in these industries were aversive towards the new technology, viewing it as a threat to traditional methods.

But its transformational value — its ability to augment designers’ potential — was swiftly recognized. Moving away from 2D drafts and 3D wireframes, today’s designers can create 3D solid models with virtual properties matching the needs of projects. Before creating a physical prototype, designers can now test and analyze virtual models of their designs. 

In tandem with technological advancement, CAD is no longer a high-tech replacement for traditional paper sketches. Instead, it empowers designers to modify their works and expand their creative ideas in ways that previously would have been impossible, with much more efficiency and with much more applied realism.

“Eventually the impact of AutoCAD on society and industry were valued as the entire market benefited immensely from its applications,” said Tayeb. “So, this applies to any revolution; it might be a hit at the beginning, but very soon industries will see the change in the market.”

Redefining current operations and systems, RPA may be going down the same route. But like CAD software, those who commit to developing the skills and understanding of RPA software will be best poised to reap its advantages and triumph in the ‘new age of automation’ that has so many concerned.

Much of the burden of responsibility, however, is on organizations to ensure their teams are prepared and trained to embrace the integration of RPA, in a way that puts them on a path to leverage the software’s transformational power as it continues to become commonplace.  

Organization leadership, Tayeb said, is key to RPA’s successful implementation.

“It will never happen without the entire commitment or adaption from the organization. And in order to do that, organizations need a very clear plan on how to implement and establish, a center of excellence. Which will be combined by managers and other key members from the business and the entire organization. Together they can lead the change within the organization with the employees.

“[…] An executive that will take ownership and influence the organization. This is, I would say, the most important thing towards a successful implementation.”