Daily Archives: November 11, 2012

Robotistan, I Think Not!

In a recent post over on Horses for Sources, Jim Slaby gives us Greetings from Robotistan, outsourcing’s cheapest new destination, and tells us that software robots are going to replace outsourced labour.

According to Jim, you will soon be able to have your own business process analysts create software robots to do the work instead of outsourced labour because you can get the robots up and running in five months and they will do the work for less than half the cost of Indian FTEs.

His rationale, the existence of a UK startup by the name of Blue Prism that makes a software development toolkit and methodology that lets non-engineers quickly create software robots to automate rules-driven business processes.

Pretty flimsy. For starters, here are the caveats that he finds:

01. The process must be repetitive back-office and not require human judgement or much exception handling.
Which probably limits it to data entry, account review, and creation of initial online access credentials.

02. IT buy in is required.
For starters, the software requires a virtual machine cluster. And the maintenance of such adds to what is probably already an excessive workload.

0.3 There is a learning curve.
It typically takes two to four months to master the tools to model, automate, test, and optimize the robots, according to Jim.

And this is just the beginning. Yes, a large wireless carrier and a major BPO services provider may have found some limited success, but you can’t overlook the facts that:

04. When you scale up, any unhandled exception has the potential to effectively crash the system.
Let’s say you created a robot for account review, a prime example for the technology as indicated by Jim, and you define an exception as any new account under a year that is overdue more than 10 days. Let’s say you are a wireless carrier, which typically has relatively high customer turnover thanks to the fact mobile numbers are portable, and you run the robot on a small test set of 1,000 records and only come up with 10 exceptions. You think it’s great and set it loose on the system with millions of subscribers, but fail to realize your sample set was abnormal and the exception rate is actually 5% and not 1% (and that you failed to insure the less than one year test was properly coded) and all of a sudden you get a queue with 100,000 exceptions that need to be manually processed. Chances are the robot will crash when the manual reviewer tries to load the entire queue!

05. BPM software is currently the be-all, end-all of bloat-ware, especially when you’re trying to create an “AI” application.
As a result, the amount of memory, processing power, and storage required to automate even simple queues is exponentially more than what would be required by an application set up to support a human. And while processing power and storage is still doubling on a regular basis, Moore’s Law is coming to an end as we are close to hitting the point where quantum uncertainty will prevent us from shrinking chips any further. This means that, as you try to build more sophisticated robots, the number of machines you require will double, quadruple, octuple, etc. until the cost to run the hardware will exceed what you could pay a human to do the same task in an emerging market (because machines require energy and energy costs and they are going nowhere but up). And, unlike the machine, the human won’t have to push every tenth transaction to the queue for someone else to process as she’ll know how to deal with the majority of transactions by the virtue of her intelligence, dedication, and desire to keep her job and have a better life.

Software is going to continue to get more powerful, and it is going to continue to automate more data processing, and continue to minimize the amount of data that requires human review, but human review is still going to be required and we’re not going to replace humans in any process that matters any time soon. We might reduce the number of humans we need, but we won’t eliminate the need for them or replace them with robots just yet.

And anyone that disagrees with me can bit my gloomy fleshy ass. 😉