Nelson Hall

The Deal Doctor: The Robots Are Coming!

“What does robotic automation mean for outsourcing?”

Of late there has been much chatter about robots in outsourcing. And let’s face it, a little bit of sci-fi imagery adds welcome colour to earnest outsourcing discussions about KPIs, gainshare and build-operate-transfer. But the use of smart software that ‘learns’ and replicates work previously done by process clerks, agents and analysts, is in its infancy and the implications are only just emerging. One view sees robotic automation as so massive and far-reaching that it spells the end of outsourcing and offshoring – there will be no need to shift work to low-cost locations or specialist suppliers if you don’t need workers. At the other end of the spectrum, others argue that robotisation is simply a smart marketing label for just the latest, incremental form of automation, and that the world of outsourcing will carry on as usual. Both positions are caricatures. But the robot story is special. Lean, adaptive, rules-based software promises automation that previously simply couldn’t be done, in far quicker timeframes. The clincher is that companies are already using robotisation successfully and at scale, with the list of case studies in banking, telecoms and other sectors lengthening rapidly. In the usually sleepy village of global outsourcing, this constitutes major disruptive change. Service providers are quickly thinking through what this might mean for their business models. Smart buyers need to ensure they have sufficiently flexible contracts and commercials to handle implementing robotic automation, particularly in terms of governance, change and charging. And just about everyone needs to consider their future relationship with a new breed of player, the robotic solution provider. Time to get ready, the robots are coming.

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This article originally appeared in Outsource magazine Issue #34 Winter 2013.