Companies take great strides to reassure employees that investments in automation and other advanced technology are not meant to be a replacement for human workers.
But ask one of the leaders of Blue Prism — a company that aims to help companies automate common, repetitive, and mundane computer tasks — and you get a more direct answer.
"It kills jobs, no doubt about it," Jason Kingdon, executive chairman at Blue Prism, told Business Insider.
Kingdon is well-qualified to make such a statement. Robotic process automation — or RPA, which Blue Prism specializes in — is one of the hottest technologies on the market. Overall, the market is projected to reach $10.7 billion by 2027.
Competitor UiPath, which last year went through a dramatic round of layoffs, won an eye-popping $7 billion valuation after closing a $568 million funding round. And tech behemoths like Microsoft are wading into the fray with their own RPA offerings.
Blue Prism counts Ernst & Young, Accenture, IBM, Microsoft, and others as clients. But despite Kingdon's own thoughts, several prominent executives at those firms have cautioned against the potential for job loss due to the uptick in automation.
No more 'sneaker brigade'
Kingdon clarified that it's a certain type of job that is at risk — largely manufacturing jobs that are already gradually disappearing, seasonal jobs that are dependent on new government policies, and other positions tasked with basic functions that can increasingly be done more efficiently by machines.
Banks, for example, used to hire what Kingdon referred to as the "sneaker brigade," or employees that were brought on to quickly bring the institutions up to speed on new regulations. That is not longer needed, he said, due to RPA.
"That kind of stuff will disappear. The kind of stuff where you have to deal with multiple applications will disappear. And if you talk to the people that do those jobs, it's absolutely welcome relief," he said.
Adoption of such tools, Kingdon argued, leads to higher job satisfaction. As employees become more accustomed to the applications, he said they become much more enthusiastic about it.
It's not an uncommon talking point. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, for example, is positioning the tech as a way to improve work-life balance for its staff.
But fear of automation is unlikely to subside. If companies are serious about actually implementing it, many need the support of their employees for it to succeed. That's why it's critical organizations make the effort to spend time figuring out how best to communicate the changes to rank-and-file workers.
Kingdon — who has worked in the AI field for nearly three decades — outlined how Blue Prism is working with firms to make the adoption easier.
'This is the future'
For Kingdon, there's no use in sugar-coating the impact of technology. "If you are in operations, this is the future," he said.
Instead of trying to tip toe around the inevitable, he argued that exposing employees to the technology can actually eliminate many of the fears — largely because it shows them how much automation can improve their jobs.
"You suddenly become part of the business in terms of the way that you're engaging customers and the way that you're designing process flows," Kingdon said. "When operations staff really get that it's like, 'wow, this is, this is the first time that we've got a real product that's for us.'"
When Blue Prism helped the Bank of Ireland use RPA to make sure it was in compliance with new regulatory requirements, the financial institution hired an outside marketing firm to help message the switch to employees.
Ultimately, a process that could have taken three years and an enormous amount of money, was completed for a fraction of the cost in less than one year, according to Kingdon. It was such a success that Blue Prism eventually brought on Brian Halpin, the former chief of RPA at the Bank of Ireland, as its global head of customer advisory.
While such an approach may be too costly or cumbersome for other companies to employ, it shows how imperative it is for executives to consider how to message the tech investments to rank-and-file employees.