An interview with Frank Casale, entrepreneur, the founder of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation, a global network of executives interested in recent advancements in process automation, and the Outsourcing Institute, the largest network of outsourcing professionals in the world.
Andrzej Manka, G1ANT: What is the role of robotic process automation (RPA) in creating the future of business?
Frank Casale: RPA is just the beginning. I think of RPA and then I think of intelligent automation, which is more powerful than basic RPA, and then I think of full-blown Artificial Intelligence. If we consider that entire suite for a moment, the real power I see is more towards the far end of the spectrum: intelligent automation, cognitive computing, AI. RPA is like the digital gateway that just gets us started, and there is a growing number of companies that are already seeing the magic in intelligent automation and AI.
What is RPA’s role? I would say that short-term, as for most organisations, it’s to save money. As for long-term, I would say that it’s important to do some real, proactive consideration as to how to leverage the power of this technology.
Here’s one scenario: we want to utilise this powerful technology not only to reduce dependency on labour, but also to proactively think about ways to leverage it to create jobs. I would say that if you put a couple of smart people in a room and came back 60 days later, they’d have a couple of good plans. Nobody’s doing that right now.
We, as an organisation, are seriously thinking of forming a group in order to really focus on future outcomes. We want to build a network of people, like myself and like yourself, that would welcome an opportunity to be actively involved in helping to envision that future, to plan it and frame it out. Nobody’s really doing that right now.
There isn’t a government out there that truly gets it. Even governments that will be significantly impacted in different ways, such as the US and India, Europe; I don’t think they get it yet. I think by the time most of the governments do get it it will be a bit too late. It may be business leaders. I would say that maybe there’s a need for digital activists Can we coin that term now, Andrzej, you and I? Digital activist.
Yes, it sounds great, Frank! Automation will finally free us from all our boring, mundane tasks. But do you think that RPA is an opportunity to create new jobs and new professions?
Well, clearly in the near-term there will be a need for data scientists, there will be a need for developers that are fluent in developing platforms and cognitive engines. It’s a different type of development, it’s not traditional software development. What’s key to these intelligent platforms are very powerful algorithms, so all the really good mathematicians that are out there, present and future, are in pretty good shape, career-wise.
Obviously process experts, people that truly understand processes, who could sit down with automation experts to then digitise these processes, I see that as powerful. I envision that it’s like chapters in a book, and in the next chapter there will be a need for people to help build out many of these platforms, build out these technologies, programme these technologies, install them and help organisations transition. There will be a huge need for those people because they will not be anywhere near as prolific as the demand. However, shortly after the chapter ends, the systems will get smaller as they become more experienced and more intelligent, and we won’t even need those people.
So what would you advise young people who are looking for professional futures? Would you advise them to strive for so-called solid jobs? To be lawyers or doctors or other traditional professions?
If you’re going to law school or medical school now, or looking to become an accountant, or you’re currently working in the mortgage processing department in a bank, I would immediately consider a career makeover, seriously. Just look and see what IBM Watson’s doing in the area of medical research; you already have cognitive systems that are acting as expert advisors.
I think jobs that, when you and I were growing up and you’d say, “Wow, this person’s a doctor, this person’s a lawyer”, jobs that were highly respected, where someone could make a very predictable, good income for most of their life, I see that changing dramatically over the next four or five years.
What is the mission of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation that you established?
Firstly, to bring about education and awareness of RPA. Secondly, execution: once organisations begin to understand RPA, and get their minds around it and want to execute, we can help.
Finally, the third dimension is more of what I would call ‘activism’: to really begin to get out there and be proactive and pre-empt the marketplace, not just sit back and wait to get bowled over by the big wave.
What will happen in a few years when automation is everywhere? Could you describe a scenario in the future world with automation?
Well, I’ve learnt that we all need to be careful when we predict the future because people tend to get it wrong. That being said, I think there are two potential scenarios. In fact, there are two camps on this: there’s the optimistic camp, and then there’s the pessimistic camp.
The optimistic camp says, “We had disruption before, and we always exchange short-term pain for a long term gain whether it was shifting from an agricultural society to an industrial society, whether it was the Internet, whether it was outsourcing”. So maybe we could say, “We’ve been here before, and this ultimately creates more jobs”. That’s the optimistic side.
The pessimistic – or some people could say dystopian – view is that we’re all in trouble, and this new technological phase will create significant social and financial unrest. Things will begin to get very bad.
I tend to be an optimistic guy, but what troubles me a bit is there are a few guys that are a little bit smarter than me who are pessimistic right now. One being Stephen Hawking, another being Bill Gates, and the third being Elon Musk. These are three extremely smart, visionary guys that believe AI is the beginning of the end of people as we know it.
I don’t know, I think it’s an extreme.
Sometimes I think that we all can over intellectualise things, so I find it’s good to simplify. My way to simplify this would be: let’s have a look at the workforce, they really don’t like to work that much, don’t like their job, are bit bored and frustrated. So maybe a society with less work, or perhaps even no work, could be better, if we can make the financials work.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had the free time to do whatever you liked, watch soccer, collect classic comics of The Hulk and Iron Man, and all those very cool, classic comics I see on your wall back there? Or maybe you like to play tennis, or enjoy poetry or classical music. That’s not that horrible a though, we just need to make sure that we can pay the bills. There’s already a good stream of thought around this concept of a Universal Basic Income, which – me being the capitalist that I am – I initially was not for, but I have actually come to see as less socialism, more as a potential framework for a post-capitalist society.
I like that version, a post-capitalist society; where jobs are not mandatory for survival because most of the work gets done by machines, by software, and we get to live enlightened lives.
By Andrzej Manka, G1ANT