ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION FOR KNOWLEDGE WORKERS – WILL IT LEAD TO EMPOWERMENT OR LAY-OFFS?
This paper explores an almost axiomatic claim in the literature that robotic process automation (RPA) represents no threat to knowledge workers who will get fewer routine tasks and more interesting and cognitively challenging work. We explore this claim with data from a sequential quantitative-qualitative, mixed-method study in Norway. 88 RPA users from different sectors and industries where first surveyed to identify differences in their perceived effects from RPA. Then, differences were followed up in 14 in-depth interviews from public sector, financial industry and manufacturing, and oil and gas. Findings revealed that RPA indeed is used to lay-off or not reemploy knowledge workers. Further, we found different effects in public and private sector, and that private, financial companies have experienced the strongest reduction in the need for employment. We find that RPA often lead to lay-offs indirectly, and to reduced need for consultants, especially in financial companies. Public companies focus more on using RPA for innovations in their service production by increasing quality in data registration, handling invoices, and migrating data between systems. We conclude that RPA is maturing as a management tool where cost reductions through reduced employment is an important motivator, and we present propositions for further research.