The bane of every employer is paying employees for non-productive activities. There are many tasks required to perform any job that just don’t add value, and repetitive mundane drudgery that afflicts every job at every level in every company. The problem has been that these tasks are also a requirement, such as re-keying data, scheduling meetings, answering simple client questions, tracking social media, and more.
People who have worked in IT for any length of time are used to, or at least aware, that the tasks they are doing could be made redundant by an advance in technology. Most look forward to it and count on it. This phenomenon of IT taking on commoditized tasks is rapidly spreading outside of IT due to advances on two fronts; virtual workers and smart machines.
The relationships between machines and people are becoming increasingly collaborative as smart machines acquire the capabilities to perform more and more daily tasks and increase their capacity to perform routine activities currently done by people. As this evolution continues, we will see the new wave of task displacement and realigning of skills in the workplace. “Smartness” is now everywhere in the work environment and in a continued pursuit of efficiency, routine tasks consisting of non-value added activities and repetitive tasks are ripe for replacement by some form of automation.
In the information technology outsourcing (ITO) and business process outsourcing (BPO) markets, robotic process automation (RPA) tools are expected to reduce the number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) a provider has attached to deliver the services. The impact will be on work that is labor intensive, such as, keying in images of invoices, bills, customer data, employee data, insurance data, and healthcare data. Gartner estimates that at least a quarter of the BPO and shared services center (SSC) activities done today are re-keying data, and a significant proportion are following rules-based processes, which could well be done by an RPA. As RPAs mature, their use within organizations to reduce similar labor intensive tasks in inevitable. If RPAs are cost effective enough to be used in labor arbitrage advantaged locations, surely they will be used elsewhere.
Virtual assistants have been available for some time. Customer complaints tend to arrive in various unstructured formats, such as emails, mail, texts or social media. Machine learning tools are starting to be used to categorize these complaints. It is possible today to have a machine interrogate, classify and respond to customer complaints, including noting if it is a first or long-standing complaint. Smart machines will range from virtual assist software seen in the contact center today, to virtual workers making routine tasks happen behind the scenes.