Over the last five years, the global management consulting company Accenture has developed proprietary automation software called the SynOps platform that it says has helped it cut 40,000 jobs within the company.
First, allow me to apologize for being forced to string together some of the dullest words in the English language, as few industries manage to deaden the soul and glaze over the eyes as potently as business consulting. Second, let me get to the news: Accenture is now putting this software up for sale, ostensibly allowing any mid-to-large-sized companies to automate their lower-level employees out of jobs.
According to Bloomberg, SynOps “suggests ways to streamline and automate processes in areas such as finance and accounting, marketing and procurement.” Synops is part of the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) boom, which is led by companies like UiPath, and which seek to automate jobs that occupy the so-called “repetitive cognitive” quadrant of jobs, like, say, data entry.
Accenture Operations, the company’s outsourcing unit, once used human workers in mostly low-wage countries such as India, to handle routine data entry and customer service tasks for clients. Now that unit is hoping this new software will help clients’ achieve further savings by — at least in some cases — eliminating the need for humans altogether.
For instance, if used in procurement, the SynOps system can take an order, generate an invoice, check that invoice against a contract, correct any errors and then email it to the customer.
Accenture insists that all of the workers whose jobs were cut were retrained, and the group chief executive officer of Accenture Operations gives the oft-repeated bromide that, “This is not trying to get rid of the human... but to make them as productive as possible and get them to focus on the work that a human really needs to do.”
To which I say—right. And the aim of automating factories was definitely not eliminating human labor, but giving workers more fun and efficient things to do on the assembly line As Kevin Roose pointed out in his recent column about the public and private sides of the Davos set’s true motivations on automation, executives and management are beyond eager to start cutting headcount. Though they may bandy about terms like “retrain workers” and “make humans more productive” in public, privately, the aim is clear: the more automation, the better.
RPA software like this, whether or not it’s any good, is poised to sweep the business sector, giving Davos wannabes the chance to automate their workforces whether the robotic replacements are any good or not.
And I will end by noting a lot of RPA stuff will undoubtedly not be very good—just look at industry’s track record of automating supposedly rote things like customer service phone menus and, say, grocery store checkout lines—so we can all expect to be subjected to incorrectly generated invoices on top of the infuriatingly poorly automated phone systems we will endure when trying to correct them. But don’t worry, a lot of people will have been fired to make this all possible, and business management companies will have made millions selling their software in the process.