Bots can be described as software that acts autonomously and independently to perform a task, which can otherwise be performed by a human. Over the past few years, IT firms are resorting to bots for a number of internal and external functions, reaching a stage where companies are now starting to report on the number of bots they have deployed. Mid-tier IT services firm Mindtree said it had deployed 335 bots last year.
“While some number of bots always existed over the past few years, this year we decided to do a census and make it public as we thought it was an appropriate time,” said Rajesh Kumar R, head of automation at Mindtree. “Bots are complementary to the workforce – not disrupting it.” The consensus across the industry is that this number is only going to go up.
Tech Mahindra uses its internal organisation as a test-bed for all bot-related applications. Here, bots are being used for a multitude of HR processes apart from client deployments.
“We are well on our way to deploy 10,000 bots across our ecosystem,” said George Mundassery, global head – AI & automation at Tech Mahindra. “Robotics and AI are redefining various processes at the workplace across geographies. According to a recent Forrester survey, roughly “85% of customer interactions within an enterprise will be with software robots in five years’ time and 87% of CEOs are looking to expand their AI workforce using AI bots.”
When the numbers enter the thousands, concerns over job losses suddenly become very real.
According to Richard Lobo, head – human Resources at Infosys, this doesn’t mean that bots will eliminate jobs. “It will just bring people to focus their attention on different kinds of jobs. This includes jobs that are high on thinking, creativity and require human interaction. So, while some jobs get eliminated, many more will be created and they will be more interesting,” he said.
Kumar adds, “Automation as a concept plays a significant role in modernising service delivery. Automation is no longer an option and newer ways of working along side bots will emerge. It still isn’t at a level where it is taking away software jobs.” At the same time, the fact remains that as IT firms have increased the use of bots over the past year, the net hiring numbers have declined.
Net employee addition across the top-four IT firms dropped by 76% last year, even as revenue growth continued.
This is largely because the people whose roles have been rendered useless are being retrained and redeployed in more challenging roles. So, while jobs may not be eliminated, the number of jobs available for people are certainly reducing.
Wipro CEO Abidali Neemuchwala has been mentioning the number of bots deployed in his quarterly results speeches for a while now.
“We now have HOLMES deployed across 320 customers with 92 unique bots, which is helping us deliver significant service improvements to our clients across the run services in IT, testing, as well as business process services,” he said at the annual results announcement last month.
The company tracks the performance of these bots and said that over the last two years, Holmes has delivered 19,000 people-equivalent productivity alongside the human workforce. In FY18, more than 2,900 bot instances of Wipro HOLMES were deployed across 320 clients.
However, not everyone is convinced about the need to declare the number of bots deployed. Siddhartha Chatterjee, chief technology officer at Persistent Systems, said, while five years from now, this (reporting numbers) would be much more prevalent, it is equally important to look at how the bots are contributing.