Luddites may fear the robots, but the workforce might just welcome them

Clare Foges writes, in a recent edition of The Times, “the robots will make Luddites of all of us.”Just to highlight what a one-sided view she may be portraying, we have a little tale to tell from a UK-based financial services business.

Two years ago the business recognised it needed a change in approach to its administration. Providing back office services for a major retail bank, there was a need to improve throughput and quality.

Current systems were not allowing them to act with speed and agility. It was a situation that wasn’t going to be helped by throwing more people into the mix, and the company recognised it needed an alternative process or solution to take the strain.

At this point, the team invited in the robots (and Genfour) to see what they could do, and to develop a proof of concept. The objective for the robots was to undertake some of the routine and voluminous processes as if they were humans – mining customer data and instigating communications with customers in an intelligent and accurate manner.

Running on a single PC, and deploying UK provider’s Blue Prism intelligent robotic technology (and by the way, Blue Prism employs over 60 people) we were able to re-create these back office processes in just under four weeks. Over the next weeks and months, the customer’s financial services team mapped out a variety of processes and invited five robots in to carry out this workload.

Celebrating the Robots

The first of these robots started work last week. What happened after that even we could not have anticipated. The customer team held a “Welcome the Robots” party. They celebrated their new robotic friends with robot bunting, signs, gift boxes and marshmallows. “The reason everyone was so excited was that the team could see how the robots will really add value to the operation, relieve daily pressure and improve a quality delivery to the customer,” said the company’s Head of Operations.

“The decision making process leading up to deploying these five robots has been a long one, so it is just so brilliant to see the whole team welcoming their arrival with such gratitude, even high-fiving us for how it had changed their day to day working lives,” said Rich Griffin, Project Delivery Consultant at Genfour. “The future will see these five robots delivering the new processes by the summer, and the customer team just could not be happier.”

Shouldn’t We Embrace the New Era of Automation?

In her article, Clare Foges writes: “For me this whole debate is missing something: the central importance of work to our lives and identities…We may never reach the age where most of us are rendered redundant by the robots, freed from the “bondage” of work to idle away our hours and get unimaginably bored.” This is a pretty black and white approach to this new era of automation and shows a lack of imagination when it comes to technology and the opportunities it opens up for business.

The other reason the team at this particular customer were so happy was that the people were redeployed into jobs that they liked more, where the levels of repetition and accuracy required creating a level of stress and unhappiness in their jobs were lower. It has improved their working lives as a result.

If you don’t believe our world will change to create new types of jobs and improve our lives, then you have never ridden in an Uber, nor have you seen how digital skills have replaced cold calling sales people.

If you are still willing to argue that these are not good steps in our evolution then perhaps you never will open up to the opportunities of the Brave New World.

James Hall, CEO of Genfour