For those outside the U.S. (or in the U.S. and coming out of a coma), the title refers to media/political heat focused on Disney since “Pink Slips at Disney. But First, Training Foreign Replacements” broke in the New York Times. On the heels of U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings over alleged H-1B visa abuses, this story of Disney outsourcing jobs away from longtime tech employees while, “families rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and searched for Nemo on Clamobiles in the theme parks “, just about wrote itself. What doesn’t write itself is the story of how robotic process automation (RPA) and in-house IT departments are poised to make these stories a thing of the past.
Where the story gets it wrong is not in alleging that H-1B visa abuses occur (they do, likely on a large scale – but that’s another story) but in the premise that highly skilled and experienced workers are being sacrificed on the corporate altar of expediency and miserliness. A harsh – and unforgiving – truth is the majority of the displaced tech workers in the NYT article are sharp, hard-working, and loyal but past their sell-by date. Technical skills, even with training, invariably decline in market value over time whereas a base salary never does.
As any experienced outsourcer can attest, one of the most critically reviewed elements of an outsourcing bid are individuals listed as “to be retained or re-badged” employees by the outsourcing providers. Both types are considered indispensable because they either have unique technical abilities (e.g. Assembler or Adabas skills) or a deep understanding of the both the company’s business model and how existing or planned technology supports and sharpens it. None of the displaced Disney workers were on that list. All other positions do not require highly specialized technology skills and experience – and can be effectively transitioned to a global delivery model.
On an operational level, an IT department faces much the same value proposition challenge as the Disney workers. In order to maintain corporate relevance it must be seen as an active and effective agent for supporting and advancing the company’s business model. While this challenge is nothing new, it has been heightened by new rivals to the IT department’s relationship with business groups; software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors.
These SaaS vendors market directly to business groups (think HR) and provide a new option: instead of meeting business needs by investing in technology services (i.e. software development or deployment projects), business groups can choose to purchase technology services on a cloud platform by “the drink” – often a cheaper, quicker and less risky alternative.
In theory, the obvious and logical way for the IT department to meet the SaaS challenge is to move beyond the role of implementing business IT investment decisions and become a change agent that facilitates the delivery of both internal and external technology services to the business community. Unfortunately, as a practical matter, IT departments and business groups have generally failed miserably to understand enough about each other’s world to effectively partner and work together.
How RPA Facilitates IT Dept./Business Group Partnering
There are four reasons why robotic process automation can be the emerging technology that finally pulls IT departments and business groups into a functional partnership.
Tough Budgets: Few things focus the corporate mind like the September-October budget work for the upcoming fiscal year. While budget demands are nothing new, current quasi-deflationary pricing pressures are forcing business to look everywhere for new cost cuts – and headcount reduction through process automation is tremendously attractive. With recent advances in user friendliness and functional capabilities, RPA will get more attention than ever.
Loose Standards: One deep rooted cause for the IT/business disconnect is the IT department’s insistence that standardization is key to effective service delivery and – surprise – the innovative technology on the business group’s wish list isn’t standard. RPA, on the other hand, thrives on loose integration with very different internal and external technologies, so it sidesteps the standardization issue.
Mutual Interests: Another cause for the IT/business disconnect is failure to recognize practical, rubber-meets-the-road areas of mutual interest. After all, what does business gain in practical terms from spending time and money educating IT about its world? And what does IT gain from encouraging business to acquire technologies likely to add to support costs and performance issues? Robotic automation is a technology that defines and promotes mutual interest. From the business group’s perspective, well-designed robotic software products intuitively document inputs, activities, rules and outcomes – providing business workflow knowledge to IT without incurring the overhead of extra time and effort. From the IT department’s perspective, robotic software products are - under the hood - actually code factories. This means IT resources not only have access to business process documentation, but can easily add business value by optimizing the code behind the automated workflow.
Big Footprint: because robotic software is about process automation, the technology provides benefits for a wide range of business units: finance; accounting; HR; customer service; transactions (e.g. insurance underwriting) and more. This large RPA enterprise footprint creates a critical mass of scope which justifies creating an IT department robotic software “center of excellence”. Such a center of excellence provides the dual benefit of increasing business knowledge within the IT department while also leveraging technical expertise to bring high value to business groups across the company.
By pulling IT and business together into a mutually beneficial partnership, skilled and tenured technology employees can lose their current vulnerability to job displacement. While technical skills are essentially fungible, deep business knowledge and the understanding of how to tie that knowledge to technology is not. Robotic software is a vehicle by which this crucial value proposition can be cultivated.
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.