The robots set to disrupt white collar work

Developments in robotics and technology mean more and more white collar jobs are being automated and performed by machines, according to experts, who also predict that this automation could solve the productivity gap.

Estimates of the impact of robotic automation vary, but market research by Forrester forecasts that automation will replace 12 million jobs in the U.S. by 2025, according to its report published last month.

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The jobs most likely to be disrupted by automation will be roles in customer service, office and administration, but other kinds of work will be created.

"The cognitive era will create new jobs, such as robot monitoring professionals, data scientists, automation specialists, and content curators," the report said.

"But the transformation of existing jobs resulting from reengineering a process to use cognitive support — such as turning low-value data entry work to higher-level analyst or customer-oriented roles — will be even more dramatic."

The reason clerical roles will be replaced is because they are highly repetitive and involve processes which are easy to replicate by machine, according to Neil Kinson, chief of staff at robotics firm Redwood Software, which automates back office and administrative processes in finance, supply chain and human resources.

"There was a very well publicized report by Oxford University that ranks your job relative to its likelihood to be automated by 2020," he told CNBC in a phone interview. "Top of the list of those jobs was highly repetitive clerical-type activities.

"Anything that is highly repetitive, that follows a repetitive role and uses some kind of technology, can be automated," he added.

Coming soon: Robot room service
Coming soon: Robot room service

Several companies are already incorporating robotic processes. For instance, Telefónica's O2 business has automated 15 core business processes such as credit checks and order processing using "software robots" developed by Blue Prism, a U.K.-based automation firm. The robots perform the equivalent workload of nearly 100 full-time employees, according to Blue Prism.

Kinson believes that automation may be key to improving economic productivity, which is a measure of output per unit of labor. For instance, the U.K. has struggled to improved productivity in recent years. The country saw output per hour fall by 1.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the Office for National Statistics.

"Given the investment in technology over the last thirty years, it would be reasonable to expect that the productivity of the white collar worker should have improved by similar levels as the blue collar worker," Neil Kinson, chief of staff at robotic automation company Redwood Software, told CNBC via email.

"The reality is quite different, and we at Redwood see robotics as the key to liberate those workers from the mundane and repetitive work and to finally close that productivity gap, and deliver against what technology promised."

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Kinson dismissed fears that every white collar worker is in danger of losing their jobs to robots.

"There's been a lot of talk in the marketplace about this impending doom and collapse associated with the rise of this robotic technology, but this is an opportunity to enrich the activities of the people that remain."

Kinson also suggested that automation was an alternative to companies attempting to cut production costs by moving operations offshore.

"If I can produce a robotic labor force, maybe I don't need to look to ever more rural parts of India or further and further undeveloped economies to find that lower cost labor force," he said.

"Actually, what I can do and would otherwise seem impossible is retain the high value work which involves thought and judgement and eliminate what is really highly mundane and repetitive."

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