Man being replaced by machines has been a topic very well documented in our academic and social history. While, designing machines that can replicate human intelligence is ‘the dream’ for many, the idea has seen its fair share of resistance from anxious workers afraid to lose their livelihood. It would be a mistake to think that the phenomenon is only very recent. The Luddite movement, which began in Nottingham in 1811, was named after a disgruntled weaver who broke two stocking frames in a fit of rage. Destruction of machinery, as a form of protest, was carried out throughout England by groups of English textile workers and self-employed weavers. Since then, the term ‘Luddite’ has become a reference to someone opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation or new technologies in general.
Back to the 21st Century, Infosys’s human resources head Krishnamurthy Shankar has revealed that the company had “released” 8,000-9,000 employees in the last 12 months due to automation of lower-end jobs. The employees are not necessarily jobless and have been retrained and absorbed to carry out ‘more advanced projects’. The company also reduced its hiring in the Jan to December 2016 period to 5,700 compared to 17,000 in the first nine months of previous fiscal year. Infosys is not alone in their journey towards automation. Most Indian and global IT services companies are investing in automation of processes in their core businesses such as Application Management, Infrastructure Management and Business Process Management (BPM).
India’s IT giants are leaving no stones unturned to fill the gaps in their digital portfolio of products and services. The subjects of Internet of Things, Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and Automation figure high on each company’s organic strategy and also in their shopping list for inorganic growth (Table 1).
Table 1: Select Digital Acquisitions by Indian IT majors
|Infosys||Panaya||200||Provider of automation technology for large scale enterprise software management|
|Wipro||Healthplan Services||460||A technology and Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) provider in the U.S. Health Insurance market|
|Wipro||Appiro||500||A services company that helps customers create next-generation Worker and Customer Experience using the latest cloud technologies|
|Infosys||Skava||120||A provider of digital experience solutions, including mobile commerce and in-store shopping experiences to large retail clients|
|Tech Mahindra||The BIO Agency||52||UK-based digital transformation firm|
|Tech Mahindra||Target Group||164||A provider of business process outsourcing and software solutions|
Automation is heralding the age of Industry 4.0 which is characterised by a diminishing boundary between the cyber and physical systems. In October 2016, World Bank research announced that Automation threatens 69 % of the jobs in India, while 77% in China. Google’s AI research lab, Google Brain is working on building AI software that can build more AI software. I wouldn’t blame anyone if they started thinking about the Skynet from Terminator or the writings of James Barrat – Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.
As per research by Gartner, IT process automation (ITPA) is very underpenetrated (only 15-20%) and will move towards maturity over the next 5-10 years. Most leading vendors in the IT services space have launched an automation platform to boost delivery efficiency.
Table 2: Automation/ AI Platforms of Indian IT Players
|Wipro||Holmes||An artificial-intelligence platform built on opensource computing aimed at optimising resource utilisation and reducing costs|
|Infosys||Aikido||Enables creation of intelligent robots that can resolve incident related to customer orders|
|TCS||Ignio||An Artificial intelligence-based automation platform which automates and optimizes IT processes within an organisation.|
|Tech Mahindra||Carexa Uno||Customer care, with agent virtualisation, analytics, assisted
interactions and digital channels.
|HCL Technologies||DryIce||A digital service exchange platform enabled by ServiceNOW|
Source: NASSCOM, Edelweiss
Platforms based on novel technologies will minimise the human effort required. Are the coders coding away their jobs then? Thankfully, there are learned people who believe otherwise. As per NASSCOM, the future may not be as dire. There is a distinct possibility that repetitive and labour intensive jobs such as data entry and testing may get completely automated, but there will be augmentation of cognitive jobs. New roles will emerge which will focus on training, learning and maintenance requirements of AI systems. Indian companies will also need to invest in re-training its employees or importing talent in the short term. In the long term, a joint effort with technology schools such as IITs and IISc will be needed to build a supply chain of talent. 65% of Google DeepMind’s hires were directly from academia.
The Indian IT services sector is worth approximately USD 150 billion, and it is largely export dependent. The Indian players need to enhance their digital capabilities to compete globally. Automation is a key area of this digital growth and so is the evolution of skilled workforce and their job profiles. The fear of technology destroying all the jobs is as unreasonable now as it was in the 18th century. Also, it is evident from history that technology has always led to creation of more jobs than it has destroyed.
The workforce engaged in IT services by nature is flexible and open to evolving work profiles. Workers in some other sectors may not have that option, especially at the jobs requiring less complexity. HDFC bank just announced that it has witnessed a head count reduction of 4,500 due to efficiency improvements and attritions in the last quarter alone. The Bank is planning to install up to 20 humanoids named “Íra” at its branches in the two years to assist customers. Ira has been developed by Kochi-based Asimov Robotics and the company has already received queries from airports, hospitality industry and retail chains to deploy similar humanoids. It would be a good move for all professionals in all sectors to ask themselves – “Can a Robot do my job?”, and upgrade their professional skills accordingly.
This is a guest post by Arvind Yadav,
Principal at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.