Is automation the next Trumpism?


Even a few days after the US elections, I am still shocked.

Most people in the world are shocked, apart from outliers such as Vladimir Putin. It is difficult to brush off the xenophobic tirades, sexism, protectionism, misogynist outbursts, etc., etc., as sheer rhetoric or just a means to an end. Yet, we really don’t know what is coming. Can one individual really change the US political system and break the influence of the vested interests? And more poignantly, can we believe any politician, let alone Donald Trump, on the many promises made on election campaigns (and beyond)? Even more pertinently, the notion that Trump will stand up for the long-suffering (white, male) working class just seems incredulous.

While it is utterly tempting to let my emotions get the better of me and just let rip, from a narrow sourcing point of view, two issues stand out: Immigration and, intrinsically linked to that, whether automation could fill the void if global sourcing is being disrupted by immigration policies.

The following is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis. Rather, as it is a blog, it is meant to stimulate debate. At the same time, dissecting populism is always contingent to context. As we have seen with Brexit in the UK, and as we are likely to see in the US, political decision-making is not based on a set of consistent policies or even on policies aimed at the majority who voted for Brexit and Trump. In my humble opinion, populism is all about being self-serving to the whims of politicians. However, as these politicians increasingly make it to the highest offices, we have to start thinking about scenario planning. Put another way, there is little value in discussing potential policies in an abstract way.

The immigration debate is complex and thorny

The threat of curbing immigration in the US is nothing new and tends to reach boiling point whenever elections are close. Yet, as Phil has pointed out, Trump’s campaign has already outwardly promoted raising the H1B minimum salary to $100,000 per year (from $60K). This makes managing complex IT projects a lot more expensive and negates much of the cost advantage for complex engagement requiring “landed” IT staff.

However, how much of this is sheer ideology and how much will be actually pursued in the political process? Will we really see Muslims being banned from entering the US and Mexico really paying for a wall at its border?

Invariably, there are many parallels to the unfolding of Brexit in the UK. For politicians (not necessarily voters), the topic of immigration is largely ideology. Thus, for immigrants the change cannot solely be measured by legislation being forthcoming. It is as much about a change in mindset, the depiction of the media and changes in everyday life as it is about deconstructing possible legislation. In the UK at least, the political culture and more alarmingly the attitude towards immigrants, has changed. In particular, immigrants from Eastern Europe are being bullied at school and violence against immigrants is sharply on the rise.

In terms of legislation in the UK, the battleground in the negotiations with the European Union will be about the access of the European Single Market.

For the European Union, this is intertwined with Freedom of Movement, yet only the negotiations will show where the red lines really are. Conversely, for the UK, Brexit proponents immigration and access to the Single Market appear to be separate issues. The point here is not to delve into specifics on the political details but to call out that the rhetoric and the promises made by those politicians. Moving the perspective back to the US, it appears to be implausible to expect Trump’s own empire to be able to run without immigrants – legal and illegal alike. Rather, expect the reality of political decision-making on Capitol Hill to sink in over time – yet with the big caveat that you can’t discount The Donald.

Beware of the automation pipedream

So what could buffer or even remediate some of Trump’s suggested excessive policies? I think Phil was very emotional and exaggerated to make a point when he wrote that President Trump is the death-knell for traditional outsourcing. For the foreseeable future automation is not quite the new labor arbitrage, but Intelligent Automation is decoupling routine service delivery from labor arbitrage. The market is too nascent to be able to compensate for any potential disruption of Global Sourcing. To change the current market dynamics, the IT juggernauts have to start to properly engage with stakeholders around the topic. I have to smile when I read reports that Brexit might give birth to Brexit-bots as a means to counter the negative impact of that momentous decision. It is surely just a matter of time before we will read about Donald or Trump-bots.

But joking aside, the serious issue is: What will be the impact of automation and who will be the winners and losers? I think our industry is largely in denial in suggesting that nobody will be made redundant through automation, but that employees will be happy bunnies as they will be freed from mundane and boring tasks. While all service providers sing from the same hymn sheet, I am scratching my head as we work in the sourcing industry… Without a more open and honest discussion on the transformation of knowledge work, organizations will struggle to make this transition. There is a scarcity, if not war, for talent out there for people that can actually deliver Intelligent Automation.

Thus, bringing automation back to the discussion on the US elections, non-linear legislation could conceivably accelerate the build out of automation capabilities, but the suggestions of a seismic shift (at least in the shorter time perspective) appears to be slightly off the mark. More importantly, though we have to equally clear who will the beneficiaries of accelerated automation. It is largely not the people who have voted for Brexit and for Trump. Those who feel left behind from Globalization will not be saved by Brexit, Trump or automation.

Bottom line: The disenfranchised will become even more disenfranchised

In my humble opinion, one of Phil’s best recent blogs was his assessment of reasons behind Brexit.

The central assertion was it was a big thumbs down for the establishment from over half the UK voters who feel disenfranchised.

The US election appears to mirror exactly that assessment. Yet, the voters who feel left behind by Globalization are unlikely to find any solace by the developments that are likely to happen. Automation (and other measures) won’t challenge the fundamentals of Global Sourcing. If anything, they will accelerate a shift to higher value jobs. Yet, many British voters are dreaming of Britain’s green shires in a foregone era, many US  voters are dreaming of a time when the rust belt wasn’t rusty and America was seen as the beacon of the free world. That is why we need a fundamental debate about the transformation of knowledge: to contain the number of people who will get even more disenfranchised.

Posted in : Cognitive Computing, Global Business Services, Robotic Process Automation



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  1. Tom, you take this head on! I would be interest in your analysis of my prediction of the possibility of a new round of Corporate Raiding based on a pandemic failure of America Corporations failure to embrace Cognitive Automation fast and comprehensively enough.


    PS – Totally agree with you on apparent denial of realism in giving the impression that this new wave of Automation is not going to significantly knock out a significant number of jobs. If any of my writings give that impression, the unspoken reasons is that what I am trying to say it doesn’t need to be your company. It can be the other guy who doesn’t strategically automate.

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