RPA: A Brave New World

As I sit here at my desk listening to the glorious whirl of robotic process automation taking place at my feet (my Roomba is vacuuming diligently), I think back to SIG’s last Global Summit in Amelia Island and how RPA was at the forefront of our discussions.

Now, of course not everyone is as fond of certain types of automation.  My dogs for instance, who are getting old, a little deaf, a little blind and a little senile, get spooked occasionally by this little disruptive digitalization in their lives.  And my 4 year-old daughter thinks it’s cool, (calls it her puppy) but if it gets too loud or in her way, its process quickly becomes terminated prematurely.

As I write this my Roomba signals with its happy little tune that it has completed cleaning the room and silence almost ensues, except for the faint hum of my newly installed ceiling fan (it’s a truly glorious sleek modern contraption) and it occurs to me that this too, a more common example of process automation, also brings me great joy, convenience and comfort.  At one point both these items were the newest technology and people doubted their need and also questioned how many jobs would be lost at their hands.  Not unfortunately, these days you do not find too many personal fanners (picture Cleopatra being fed grapes and giant palm fronds), but in its stead fan designers, engineers, installers, repair servicemen and salesmen. And whereas only a small minority of the population could afford a professional fanner back in those days, ceiling fans are common place and found in abundance due to technology and manufacturing improvements, making them less expensive and more easily accessible.

Just as outsourcing has been sometimes viewed as a black sheep, so too seems RPA as similar questions begin to arise on legality, security, potential job loss, cost as well as effort to put the technology in place. Like my daughter, I saw a lot of awe, curiosity and excitement coming from my peers when discussing RPA and its possibilities–even while watching some of them come to fruition before our eyes at the last SIG Global Summit. And again like my daughter, I also heard in contrast the cries of those worried about getting IT and HR on the same wavelength, and wanting to give up the process change prematurely before it could even begin. When I saw these differing reactions, I wondered how quickly RPA would make its way into the sourcing world realistically, as one of humanity’s greatest challenges has and always will be change management and fear of the unknown.

 One thing is for sure, “change is a comin”… RPA is natural progression in our technology and AI-heavy world and those that jump on the wagon before it becomes a car, in my opinion will profit the greatest.  Take for example, Panera.  Earlier this week I read an article on innovation at Panera and how increases in automation brought about the hiring of an additional 10,000 workers. Digital ordering kiosks were first introduced at Panera in 2015 and originally viewed as a way to replace cashiers and eliminate cost. However, this digitalization grew to include an integration with a mobile payment platform, thus filling a gap in the food delivery space.  Reliance on automation, in turn has brought about more demand.  This demand thus created a need for support staff to supply that demand (flashbacks to economics 101’s law of supply and demand) through delivery and delivery preparation. But this is just one great example where automation caused the opposite effect of some of the doubters’ greatest fears and resulted in tremendous growth for Panera and increased jobs.

As the Sourcing Intelligence Manager at SIG, my thoughts turn to gearing up for this RPA influx on behalf of our members and I continue my searching for the latest on thought leadership, RFx templates and tools that might be handy for sourcing professionals as we head into this brave new world. This is where I shamelessly plug that the SRC is always looking for submittals and I welcome any of these resources you might have that we could include in our treasure trove of a library. I look forward to this new era of sourcing with tremendous excitement, just as I excitedly run to put my Roomba in the next room so it can make my life easier, cleaner and more at peace.