Over 1 million knowledge-work jobs will be replaced in 2020 by software robotics, RPA, virtual agents and chatbots, and machine-learning-based decision management. So predicts research firm Forrester in a new report published today, “Predictions 2020: Automation.” It also estimates that 331,500 net jobs will be added to the US workforce next year, human-touch jobs that require intuition, empathy, and physical and mental agility.
Forrester highlights what it calls “the automation paradox,” predicting that after years of falling, MTTR or Mean-Time-To-Resolution (the time it takes to resolve an IT failure, for example) will increase. This is the result of automating the “low-hanging fruit,” the repetitive tasks and incidents, leaving the more complex and time-consuming problems for humans to fix.
While many “commodity tasks” have been automated (Forrester estimates that most organizations have automated at least 20% of what the service desk has traditionally done and that some have automated up to 80%), there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit in the enterprise, waiting to be automated. The worldwide market for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) services will reach $7.7 billion next year and will grow to $12 billion in 2023, “propelled by a need to establish governance and operating models around RPA platforms,” says Forrester. The services-to-license ratio will be 3.2 to 1.
The automation market will see in 2020 a shift from point solutions to more comprehensive offerings that will address integration challenges and will enable best-in-class features that enterprises require. 80% of enterprises will recognize the threat of automation islands and determine that they’re no longer sustainable, Forrester predicts. As a result, they will set up automation strike teams, a new organizational approach with new roles, skills and jobs, that sits between traditional IT and domain experts.
Automation, says Forrester in another report (“Beware the Automation Paradox”), can be hazardous, “like a chainsaw in untrained hands.” The two catastrophic crashes of the Boeing 737 Max brought recently the limits and challenges of automation to the public consciousness. The cockpit crews did not understand what the automated system was doing because the development and implementation of these automated systems neglected to take into account that humans must step in when they cease functioning. “This is why every automated system must be designed with humans at the center,” says Forrester.
Automation was also highlighted in Gartner’s recently published top ten strategic technology trends for 2020. One trend is what Gartner calls “hyperautomation,” the combination of multiple machine learning, packaged software and automation tools to deliver work, referring to all the steps of automation—discover, analyze, design, automate, measure, monitor and reassess. Understanding the range of automation mechanisms, how they relate to one another and how they can be combined and coordinated is a major focus for hyperautomation.
Another 2020 trend identified by Gartner is “autonomous things.” These are physical devices that use AI to automate functions previously performed by humans. The most recognizable forms of autonomous things are robots, drones, autonomous vehicles/ships and appliances. Their automation goes beyond the automation provided by rigid programing models, and they exploit AI to deliver advanced behaviors that interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people. As the technology capability improves, regulation permits and social acceptance grows, autonomous things will increasingly be deployed in uncontrolled public spaces, predicts Gartner.
Another recent report about automation pointed out that the promise and potential challenges of automation may take a long time to manifest themselves. The Future of Warehouse Work from UC Berkeley Labor Center offers an in-depth, detailed look at the range of ways in which warehouse work and the industry as a whole might change with the adoption of new technology over the next five to 10 years.
Conclusion? “We project that the industry likely won’t experience dramatic job loss over the next decade, though many workers may see the content and quality of their jobs shift as technologies are adopted for particular tasks.”
There will be no dramatic job loss because the adoption of automation takes time: “Absent a major shift in how warehousing activities are valued, the dynamics that have created barriers to innovation and contributed to the sector’s status as a laggard are likely to persist over the next five to 10 years.” This is probably true for other industries and type of jobs where inertia will triumph over automation for some time to come.