Iceland, give us a call!

There is simply too much work in the world and too few people to do it! Australia, New Zealand, Canada, China and more recently Iceland have all launched campaigns to attract foreign talent. The Reykjavik Grapevine reports that up to 4,000 foreign workers are needed in Iceland in the next year. This is due to a combination of the growth of the tourism business, aging demographic, and emigration.

Iceland’s national challenge presented an interesting thought experiment. Could RPA help?

Usually the effects of RPA to the workforce are examined in a closed environment of an organisation. How many Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) aka people have been replaced by the robots’ work effort? How many people were actually let go due to adoption of RPA? How many were not hired at all due to RPA? How many were transferred to other tasks?

Companies can easily be so big that doing this analysis can seem daunting. But everyone recognises it is necessary or you can’t see the effects of what you do. Doing this on a country level would be just ridiculous, right?

Iceland is small enough to actually consider this. According to Wikipedia, its population is just over 323,000. In comparison, Accenture had 394,000 employees in 2016 (again, according to Wikipedia.) If Accenture can handle and analyse its employees, why shouldn’t Iceland do the same for its inhabitants?

Iceland’s greatest industry is tourism. While I do not have a lot of experience in that industry yet, I am sure there are cases for RPA there. Handling bookings, creating quotes for requests, planning preliminary shifts, and other tasks could all be handled by RPA. There are also the cases I’m more familiar with. No country runs without health care, banks, insurance companies, HR, payroll… In all of these fields we have done successful implementations and seen the great effects of RPA.

In many cases (for examples check out Service Automation: Robots and the Future of Work by Leslie P. Willcocks and Mary C. Lacity) the robots haven’t replaced people completely – they took over some of the tasks of a person. So in the end some of the people ended up working alongside the robots, handling the cases robots couldn’t, while others moved onto other tasks – according to their interests, and opportunities available within the organisation. Natural attrition of course occurred.

On a country level finding out all the opportunities available can be more difficult, unless special care is taken to combat this. It is hard enough to know what kind of opportunities there are in a different department within a specific organisation, let alone in a completely different company or multiple companies.

There is also the real issue to consider that people might not want to change job from one industry to another. If you’re a nurse, you might not want to become a tour guide. To be sure, there are often surprisingly similar jobs within different industries when you just look at what you like doing and what is important to you, instead of what your previous titles have been. It requires courage and willingness to explore to jump into a completely new job in a new industry.

But Iceland as a country has been brave before. There’s no reason to believe its inhabitants aren’t brave as well.

While RPA does create FTA savings, it’s not by any means its only, nor even its most important effect. Other benefits include, but are not limited to, improved service quality, the ability to expand service volumes, improved adherence to policies and standards, and improved job satisfaction.

So Iceland, give us a call!


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Article: Emma Luukka – RPA Solutions Consultant, Digital Workforce