Brexit and The Digital Workforce


For a while now, I have been a subscriber to a monthly webinar series called BotVisions. Produced by Automation Anywhere, who claim to be the global leaders in robotic process automation, the series focuses on the developing world in the eyes of technology. A recent broadcast addressed one of the hottest topics affecting the UK workforce – the vote to leave the European Union. Shail Khiyara, chief marketing officer at Automation Anywhere, was joined by Aris Kossoras, a partner at KPMG, and Sarah Burnett, vice-president at Everest Group, a management consulting company. The webinar addressed how Brexit will continue to impact on the movement of people, goods, services and capital.

Kossoras stated that companies operating on a global scale will see their supply chain costs increase as well as a possible decrease in foreign sales. Alongside wage inflation, due to a large number of skilled workers being forced to leave the UK, it seems that the expenditure of conglomerates will boom. Not only will foreign direct investment reduce, margins for UK companies will also sink due to rising costs. Public opinion and political mood will be ignored by boards, who will instead prioritise their shareholders’ wishes. This means businesses will be forced to research technologies to try to break the paradigm of reduced margins and increased expenditure.

The issue surrounding the solution of this increased expenditure was heavily discussed. A drive in wage inflation will cause an increase in local competition as a result of the shortage of skilled labour in the UK. Burnett believed companies would counter this by digitalising their workforce. She said companies will look for a long-term fix in robotic process automation (RPA) and cognitive technologies. Kossoras predicts that companies investing in these avenues will have a clear competitive advantage over those that wait. From here, Burnett turned her attention to the influence of economic changes on technology. She referred to the surge of investment in business process management and automation components in 2009, which rose by 80 per cent even at the height of the financial crisis. Companies that were investing in 2009 were growing by 20-40 per cent at a time when many were de-sizing. Burnett claims the same will happen post-Brexit. Companies that are already investing in RPA technologies are growing by 150 per cent year on year, an indication of the future. Burnett expects a 90 per cent growth rate in RPA investment. Senior executives will hit the green light on automation investment to address the need for efficiency. There has been a lot of hype around Amazon’s delivery bots and their ‘no pay’ supermarkets, a small example of the increase in software technologies in the years to come. The future generation of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence based programmes are what Burnett refers to as ‘BrexBots’. Prior to Brexit, Everest predicted that robots will be doing roughly 90,000 full time employees jobs by 2018. However, as companies scurry to pull the lever on research and investment into automation, this number will significantly increase.

So, what’s happening now? Mark Zuckerberg’s house is being operated by an AI called JARVIS and it has been heavily suspected he is building an iron suit in his basement. Front office industries such as banking are already investing heavily in cognitive technologies; trailing businesses have RPA systems underway. A combination of RPA, cognitive technologies and analytics will continue to be highly attractive in the years to come. It is a bleak thought, but we are educating the next generation for jobs that may not even exist when they eventually seek employment. Could technology maintenance be the future for human filled roles? Will we become merely the support staff for our own creations? The events of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror highlights the infinite possibilities surrounding the development of technology.

By Rob Samuel