Will 2018 be the tipping point for automation?

roller-coaster

Technology adoption typically proceeds incrementally. As users accumulate, emerging products and services gain visibility and scale, creating more interest and demand. Eventually, if the vendor (or vendors) are lucky, usage will reach a “tipping point,” defined by Merriam Webster as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.”

Examples of technology tipping points abound. Personal computers, the internet, wireless, smartphones, mobile apps, any number of social media outlets — all have made the journey from early adoption to widespread acceptance. And while the specific tipping points for those technologies and services might be subject for debate, no one can argue that each has contributed to an “unstoppable effect or change” for consumers and in the workplace.

Technology analyst and consulting firm Forrester sees automation technologies reaching the “unstoppable” stage as early as next year, particularly automation designed to help enterprise customers.

“We believe that customer demand will deliver an automation tipping point in 2018,” says Forrester senior analyst Chris Gardner. “While reticence over workforce impact will remain, the age of the customer requires dramatically speeding up the revolution.”

Specifically, Gardner writes in a Forbes column, Forrester expects:

  • A brief but ultimately futile backlash against automation fueled by “resentment over change.”
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) will “reshape the workforce” next year in two ways. First, RPA “will take over low-value repetitive tasks and rote work,” Gardner says. Second, bots will “replace and/or augment 311,000 office and administrative positions and 260,000 sales and related jobs to deliver enhanced customer experiences.”

As a human worker, I feel compelled to point out that there’s a big difference between “replace” and “augment.” It’s hard to blame enterprise employees for being concerned about losing their jobs to automation, especially since cost reduction is a huge driver of automation. You’ll have to look long and hard to find a commercial enterprise that wouldn’t lay off employees if it thought work could be done more cheaply via automation. Which leads to Forrester’s third prediction:

  • Robots will ease your burdens – if you reskill properly. (My dramatic italics.)

This last prediction is geared (thankfully) more toward IT workers. Noting how automation can help IT pros focus on higher-value activities, Gardner writes, “All professionals much become more attuned to code and development (the lingua franca of modern automation). Those who do not risk being automated out of their jobs.”

If that sounds harsh, it is. But change is constant in the enterprise, and workers always have had to adapt (or fade away). Further, resistance to unstoppable change ultimately is futile and self-defeating. Enterprise employees who understand, embrace, and leverage automation can make themselves even more valuable to their employers. After all, what’s the alternative?

RELATED LINKS

Will automation gut the IT “middle class”?

Is your job a candidate for automation?

2018: The quantified enterprise — Stop guessing and start measuring

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