The robots are coming

It’s true, the robots are coming.

Forrester predicts that by 2021, there will be over 4 million robots doing office, administrative, sales, and related tasks, with the market worth $2.9 billion.

Wait, robots in the office?

Everyone’s familiar with robots in the manufacturing space, where they drill the same hole or weld the same spot on product after product going by on an assembly line. That type of robot has been a fixture since the 1970s.

The robots coming to take over the office, though, aren’t like those machines at all.

Designed to copy the work done by back-office employees, RPA ‘robots’ are actually application software that automates repetitive tasks such as reviewing claim forms or processing invoices. RPA software often incorporates some level of artificial intelligence for making decisions based on specific rules.

Advocates of RPA describe the same advantages that advocates of robotic manufacturing did decades ago:

“Robots never grow tired, and they never get exhausted on repetitive duties. The only thing that can diminish their performance is a maintenance concern or hardware breakdown. So long as they are correctly supervised and serviced, they can operate incessantly, with negligible loss in performance.”

That’s from the article “RPA to the Rescue” on

Companies looking to leverage automation’s advantages are beginning to implement RPA in greater numbers. According to Gartner, RPA software revenue grew 63.1% to $846 million just last year, making it the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market.

As Information Age has noted, banks, insurers, telcos and utility companies have emerged as the biggest RPA adopters, although RPA software is being deployed in all industries.

That’s creating demand for developers and software architects who know Blue Prism, UIPath, and other RPA software. There’s also demand for developers who don’t yet know RPA software; in RPA job postings, many companies offer to train candidates as long as they’re acquainted with Agile or traditional development methodologies.

But what about the employees whose work will soon be done by the robots that never grow tired? Automation often leads to job losses; more robots on the assembly line, for example, meant fewer humans. And Forrester has estimated that RPA automation will threaten the livelihood of 230 million knowledge workers worldwide.

That’s a lot.

At the moment, wholesale job losses don’t appear imminent, and at least one recent survey shows that knowledge workers welcome the idea of automation that will reduce their workload. Companies are being encouraged to find new opportunities for employees whose routine duties are being automated; many are looking to “upskill” these employees into slots where they can use skills such as creativity and communications that can’t be automated.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this aspect of IT. For now, though, everyone with software development skills owes it to themselves to get familiar with RPA.