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Robotic process automation: the future of man and machine

Posted by CeMAT Team on 30-Mar-2017 16:33:18

How a human workforce will change with robotic process automation

Did you know that 45% of work activities can be automated? With such a strong future ahead, there seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding the idea that one day robots will be taking care of the many manual tasks humans currently do. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) has a lot of misunderstanding and fear surrounding it, and you've probably already heard the murmurings that the future workforce for biological organisms remains desolate and tumbleweed-infested. But is it really as bad as predicted? This post looks to cast away the fear of RPA to a positive future where humans simply work in different roles and in harmony with our metal-bound colleagues.




The future lies with a 24x7 workforce, but what about humans?


This post is here to allay fears that robots will sweep in and remove the need for the human touch. Transitioning to an operating model that uses robotic process automation releases businesses from the constraints of manual labour while also helping to redefine workforce roles. That doesn't seem to bad, right? 

Firstly, a robotic workforce can work through peak times, overnight to fulfil next day deliveries, all while scaling with speed and agility. And this may be where the fear begins to set in as humans are unable to compete with such an intense work ethic. 

Across the many conversations of how automation and robotics will impact human jobs, it’s worth discussing the impact a 24x7 robotic workforce will have on jobs. Yes it’s true; a robotic workforce provides economic value in a way that many businesses owners can’t dismiss it. But that doesn’t mean all jobs will be totally lost.

Once many of the manual and menial tasks are replaced by robots, organisations will need to restructure workforces so that human workers are given tasks that are higher in value. It was estimated by Fortune, that by 2018 supply chain management jobs will shift to focus on analytics scheduling, complex problem solving and project management.

As is the normal reaction with humans when we talk about the loss of jobs, on the outside it’s easy to empathise with those who could be potentially jobless. However, the outlook for supply chain professionals by 2025 is predicted to have the opposite effect. Let us explain. 

According to an article published in Supply Chain Management Review, supply chain talent will become highly sort after. Businesses will actually need to develop strategies to hire and retain “highly skilled, tech-savvy workers”; quite a different picture painted compared to the bleaker, job-scarce version.

e-Commerce isn't going anywhere, and supply chains certainly can't run in a totally human-less environment. Let's take a look at how we can strategically uncover the changing roles of humans and robots in supply chain management. 



Automation is happening to all industries so consider a strategic approach


According to PwC, 72% of organisations globally expect to have advanced levels of digitisation by 2020. Technology provides a smorgasbord of options to choose from when it comes to automation, but it isn’t just enterprise that expects to be disrupted by innovation.

80% of Australians expect their work to potentially be at risk by automation according to a new study from Accenture. Employees are developing new skills for the automated workforce, and likewise, employers are now redefining the required skills they look for when hiring.

Taking the right strategic approach moving into the future requires thought. It is crucial that businesses get the parameters right when it comes to what they need to automate and what human skills they need to look for, or possibly train their staff for. 

Intelligent automation will eventually be fed through all industries and through all parts of business. Robotic process automation is a great way to ensure every manual task across your business can be replaced. And the great thing about RPA is that it often doesn’t require integration because it should fit right in with your already established systems.

It’s also worth considering the areas of your business that profits from a human workforce. For example, you may require a team for complex sales, or anywhere in your warehouse or supply chain that requires cognitive learning.



Your supply chain needs RPA – here’s how to get great ROI


As with any new technology implementation, or any new investment in business, it’s important to get the most out of what you pay for. 

If you’ve introduced robots into the workforce, it’s important to see what other tasks can be replaced by automation as well. Run an audit of your end-to-end processes and see how you can maximise automation across all your processes. You may have a variety of departments that run particular processes it’s important for everyone to work together. This will ensure your robotic automation endeavours flow upstream. It really is the case with robotic automation that one kink in the chain can bring the whole ecosystem down. 

Say you run an e-Commerce platform that automates picking and packing with robotic processes. However, new orders aren’t fed through inputs that notify despatch in the warehouse. This will cause delays over time so it’s better to ensure that all departments are connected and can speak to each other. 

Check out our post on robotic process automation for picking here.

Robots already play such an integral role in material handling, but RPA will really bring a lot of structure to supply chains as we find new ways of creating efficiencies with it. Distribution centres will experience significant benefits from RPA, as business will be able to seamlessly connect customer-management systems with order management systems; a great way to build trust and loyalty.

Although it does sound as though RPA is a supply chain managers dream technology, it doesn’t come without its challenges. Taking an end-to-end approach through the supply chain, and then eventually taking a whole of business approach takes a lot of work and strategy. 

Another consideration to make is the idea that, although businesses are warming up to the idea of automation, many people are still concerned about the looming idea of lost jobs. Any business that decides to automate with the potential of people losing their jobs may experience social backlash.

We here in the CeMAT team hope we’ve given you a fair and enlightening view of what the future of RPA in supply chain management entails. If you’ve got any questions, let us know in the comments below.

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Topics: Supply Chain Management