Although Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, has been used for over a decade in factories around the world, recent advances in technology may permanently change the way we look at process excellence. Basically, robotics are now available for incorporation on a larger scale. Where they were previously controlled and monitored by “desktop” applications, robotic workers are now available for integration on an “enterprise,” or server-based scale.
The upshot is that while robotic “workers” could theoretically displace skilled human employees, the technology is still in the development phase. Although process excellence and impeccable execution may be simpler without the human factor, there will still be skilled positions for workers who can monitor, test, maintain, and integrate the new digital assembly line into existing technology.
Experts report that one robotic unit could replace up to five regular workers; in the absence of the need for health insurance, rest breaks, and paychecks, startup companies could realize a profit more quickly. The promise of lower overhead and improved efficiency are driving project management teams to reconsider the long-term rationale behind retaining employees in general. Maintenance costs stand to be lowered, profits stand to explode, and for some companies the human factor is one they would not mind avoiding.
Once shareholders realize how much they stand to gain financially from robotic automation, the pressure on companies to automate may drive rapid market expansion. Naysayers may note that widespread outsourcing of American unskilled labor in the last twenty years has contributed, at least in part, to the development of an entrepreneurial creative class in the United States.
Skilled workers who may be contemplating their own planned obsolescence should rest assured that the rise of the “robot class” may allow for fewer on-the-job injuries and better working conditions around the world. Platform-based robotic integration may be a few years off, but science recruitment agencies should be prepared for a drastic upswing in applicants looking for new skills in an unfamiliar digital environment.
The integration of ambitious “process excellence” projects with an exciting but untested digital workforce leaves some workers pondering their fate. Media pundits often joke that as long as programmers refrain from creating sentient robots, humankind will remain safe from harm. But as robots are given more freedom, more autonomy, and ultimately more responsibility for the global economy, skilled workers worldwide are starting to entertain a much more serious conversation.