RPA leader urges greater focus on automation skills in SA

UiPath has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s intention to introduce automation training at primary school level, saying the Robotic Process Automation revolution is underway, but the necessary skills are lacking.

The President said: "Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device. ....Already, 90% of textbooks in high enrolment subjects across all grades and all workbooks have been digitised. In line with our Framework for Skills for a Changing World, we are expanding the training of both educators and learners to respond to emerging technologies including the internet of things, robotics and artificial intelligence."

UiPath, which expects to see one robot for every person in a matter of a few short years, said at a media briefing in Sandton on Thursday that the move to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is inevitable, and that future jobs depends on having RPA skills.

Rapid rise of RPA

South African ICT veteran and new UiPath head of sales for South Africa Lenore Kerrigan noted: “Automation, and RPA, is a wave of change much like the ones we saw when personal computer and mobile phones first arrived. The difference is – this is taking off much faster. RPA is not like having R2D2 coming in and taking over your job, though. RPA gives you a digital assistant that takes over your mundane, process-based work, and does it better and faster. This leaves humans free to focus on creative problem-solving and innovation.”

IDC associate VP, sub-Saharan Africa Mark Walker said global RPA spend – already in the region of $3.7 billion – is growing at around 50% year on year to 2022. “Robotic Process Automation is already among the top three capabilities expected of a company, because of its cost savings, rapid implementation and fast return on investment,” he said.

RPA is being deployed across industries, wherever rules-based repetitive tasks are involved. “Every organisation seems to have a different use case for RPA,” said Kerrigan. “We’re seeing it deployed to reduce time to process shipping documents from overnight to a matter of minutes; or to support contact centre agents in delivering enhanced customer service. So we’re starting to see a digital workforce and a human workforce collaborating side by side.”

New job opportunities

While RPA promises to free up human capital to become creative problem-solvers, it could also result in some job losses, UiPath concedes.

Kerrigan says: “The advent of technologies like electricity and motorised cars also impacted jobs. But at the same time, they created opportunities for scores of new jobs. There is no stopping progress. But what we are seeing in our deployments with global customers, and in South Africa too is a lot of repurposing of roles and upskilling of workers to use RPA to improve their daily work. It is our responsibility as leaders, industry and even parents to show people how to take advantage of the whole new world of opportunity that is arriving.”

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