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A Bot Is Not Your Ordinary Employee

Is the digital workforce powered by technologies such as Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence the successor to the labor arbitrage model of the globalization era?

The Rise of the Digital Workforce?

In a previous post titled How Robotic Process Automation Can Benefit Your Business, we shared some similarities between ‘hiring’ a software robot and an employee.

You need to train your bot on your business processes before it can be productive, just like any other new hire.

Furthermore, you require a bot manager to supervise these bots, similar to how you assign your new hires to a reporting manager.

But there are more.

These bots actually take on an identity of their own – they are often given names and are assigned their own login credentials and user access. United Overseas Bank, for example, named their first 2 virtual employees Amy and Eve.

However, you will be making a big mistake if you view these software robots as just your ordinary employees.

In many ways, a software robot is not a normal employee.

For one, you are not burdened with the usual challenges associated with human capital. As explained in How Companies Are Overcoming Their Manpower Challenges, some of these employment specific challenges include:

  • Rising labor costs

  • Manpower rules and regulations

  • Attracting and retaining workers (both younger and older ones)

  • Availability of workers (both blue and white collar)

  • Upskilling and training of Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs)

Take rising labor costs as an example.

Many countries, especially developed ones like Japan and Singapore, are facing the demographic time bomb of declining birth rates. As the older workers retire, ceteris paribus, the total workforce shrinks in lockstep.

And while many policy makers have attempted to mitigate this decline through the import of foreign talent, in this age of protectionism, this policy is fast becoming too big a political price to pay.

In short, with constrained supply, labor costs can only go one way – north.

Digital Workforce of the Future?

On the other hand, bots are operating on a different economics altogether.

According to Moore’s Law, price performance of processing power is doubling approximately every 18 months, price performance of disk space is doubling approximately every 12 months and price performance of bandwidth is doubling approximately every 9 months.

The corollary is that these bots are only going to get more powerful, yet cheaper with the passage of time.

But as Warren Buffett famously said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

The value proposition of software robots is much more than just being a cheaper alternative to traditional manpower.

From recruitment and on-boarding to development, retention and exit, the process is much more friction-less with software robots.

No more long-drawn recruitment process for example. With the increasing proliferation of Robots as a Service, you can now spin up a new digital or virtual employee literally in seconds.

And you do not need to worry about making a wrong hire and its costly consequences. From UiPath Go! To Automation Anywhere’s Bot Store, there are now ‘robot marketplaces’ that allow you to find that custom-built robot that meets your needs.

The biggest upside of this all?

We are only in the early stages of this digital automation wave (the so called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’) and the best is certainly yet to come.

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." – Roy Amara

It is interesting to note the subtle, gradual shifts in messaging from the industry.

From the initial “taking the robot out of the human” to the current “a bot for every employee”, the market players have been quick to emphasize that the software robots assist and augment, not displace, the work of existing employees.

There is no doubt that part of this can be attributed to the need for political correctness. Yet, for society to truly benefit from this transformative technology, big bold thinking is required.

A lights-out shared services, anyone?

Or one employee to every 5 bots perhaps?

Good automating!

What are your thoughts on the future of the labour market? Do drop us a comment below.


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