Automation will impact the global workforce in 2018

Robotic process automation is going to reshape the workforce, plus more of our automation predictions.
Written by Forrester Research, Contributor

Video: The need for automation skills is exploding, freelance survey finds

Until now, automation has gotten a bad rap. In 2013, Oxford professors Carl Frey and Michael Osborne analyzed 702 occupations and declared 69 million US jobs, or 47 percent of the workforce, would be lost. In 2017, CNBC reported that 65 percent of Americans believed other industries would suffer because of automation, but theirs would be unaffected.

Despite the doomsaying being flat-out wrong (automation will only eliminate 9 percent of US jobs in 2018 but also create 2 percent more in a new "automation economy"), the demand for automation has never been higher. Customers expect fast, personalized experiences through frequently updated apps. They do business at all hours and are increasingly comfortable doing it with machines and bots. They trust their personal data will be reliably stored and secured automatically -- no matter where it travels.

We believe that customer demand will deliver an automation tipping point in 2018. While reticence over workforce impact will remain, the age of the customer requires dramatically speeding up the revolution.

In 2018, automation will go from being a political hot topic to having a genuine and measurable impact on our day-to-day lives.

Read also: How technology will transform software development in 2018 | 2018 is the year mobile will become core to digital ecosystems | Global tech market will grow by 4 percent in 2018, reaching $3 trillion

Forrester's 2018 automation predictions  are available today, and we dig into the macro and microeconomic impact of automation in 2018 and the actions leaders need to take. In 2018, we predict that:

  • A political backlash will briefly impede automation -- and fail.  As people become more and more engaged with customer service automation like kiosks and robots, there will be hesitation and, in some cases, resentment over change. However, enterprises and political organizations will reexamine change management procedures and reorient PR to navigate these waters. Automation will eventually win out because its societal and economic benefit will outweigh political resistance.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) will reshape the workforce.  As enterprises become more acclimated with automation, RPA will take over low-value repetitive tasks and rote work. In 2018, RPA-based digital workers (i.e., bots) will replace and/or augment 311,000 office and administrative positions and 260,000 sales and related jobs to deliver enhanced customer experiences. Digital transformation spending will increasingly emphasize automation, and operating models will be re-engineered around it.
  • Robots will ease your burdens -- if you reskill properly.  Automation will let security pros shift from reaction to intent, compliance to handing commodity tasks off to friendly robotic staff, and infrastructure and operations professionals to keeping their hair running software-defined workloads. To manage this, all professionals much become more attuned to code and development (the lingua franca of modern automation). Those who do not risk being automated out of their jobs.

In 2018, automation will permanently change the ways businesses engage with customers. While workforces evolve to leverage it, customer-obsessed organizations must ensure it touches every customer interaction. Ignoring automation as it transforms 2018 needlessly throws away competitive advantage.

-- By Chris Gardner, senior analyst

Forrester predicts 2018 will be a year of reckoning. Download our 2018 predictions guide to gain new insights and help catalyze action at your organization.

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