What sort of a future does cognitive automation offer our world, and what does the path to that place look like? Mark Harris looks ahead in conversation with Shamus Rae, Head of Innovation and Investments for KPMG in the UK.
Is cognitive automation really about to change the world, or is this just more high-tech hysteria? “There’s been a lot of hype around these technologies for four or five years,” says Shamus Rae, Head of Innovation and Investments for KPMG in the UK. “But now the technology is being delivered and the hype is becoming reality.”
Automation in progress
Rae points out that cognitive automation is already changing the way large businesses operate – and not just in Silicon Valley. “Major telcos, oil and gas companies, and retail and investment banks have already dipped their toes in the water,” he says. “There’s a global organisation where the chairman doesn’t have an HR business partner any more. If the chairman or CEO wants to know about hiring policy in Bangladesh or New Zealand, they just talk to an agent in a virtual HR system instead.”
The benefits of cognitive automation and robotic procession automation for many businesses are pretty clear: lower costs, smoother workflows, and the ability to scale services rapidly for little or no additional money. And as the word gets out, Rae expects the pace of change to pick up significantly: “There’s a slight delay between industries but as people get comfortable and understand the reality, they’re going to start accelerating.”
High quality service for all
Rae predicts that efficiencies at larger companies – the most likely early adopters of cognitive automation – will quickly benefit smaller businesses. He notes that KPMG has many thousands of tax experts in member firms all over the world helping all sizes of organisations. “Imagine industrialising all the knowledge of all the tax partners in KPMG and then providing that quality of insight all the way along the long tail,” he says, “Whether you’re a small manufacturer in the Midlands or a big corporate, you’ll get the same high quality of service. That’s exactly where we’ll be in five to 10 years’ time.”
Simultaneously, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will experience similar shifts in everything from IT and legal advice, to marketing, to customer services. “By having a whole series of bots in the service industry, you create the ability to bring different technologies together very quickly,” says Rae. “For the first time, SMEs will be on a level playing field with the biggest corporates,” says Rae, who predicts a massive job churn in large organisations, including government institutions.
More jobs for humans
Such rapid shifts in the way businesses operate will bring with them equally dramatic changes in employment, admits Rae. “By using specialist robots, particularly in fields such as finance and law, SMEs will be able to compete and grow, employing more staff in the areas of their work that are unlikely to be automated.”
KPMG estimates that 30% of corporate jobs could be done by robots by 2026. “The view that about half of all jobs are susceptible, with the Bank of England saying 15 million jobs in the UK could be displaced, I think is very accurate,” says Rae. “The job rotation over the next 10 years is going to be extremely difficult to manage.”
Rae considers that economist John Maynard Keynes’s famous prediction, made in 1930, of a 15-hour working week by 2030 could well come true. The challenge, however, will be achieving that without massive social unrest. “If we do all of this at a country level, then it can work,” he says. “We have the potential to reorganise society over time, getting the people rotated out of their current jobs, encouraging SMEs to build, and allowing more people to have more flexible lifestyles. But it will only work if we face up to it today, politically and publicly.”