The exciting world of robotics
We chatted to Atenkosi Ngubevana, Vodacom Executive Head (EHOD) of Robotics Processing and Automation (RPA), about the future.
From banking and finance to robotics, Ati's journey has exposed her to various skills and experiences that have equipped her to be Vodacom executive head (EHOD) of robotics processing and automation (RPA). Here, she tells us her story and reveals what robotics holds in the future.
Tell us about your career.
My career started off in banking. I originally wanted to be a pilot but there wasn’t enough money for me to attend pilot school. So I started working as a teller in a bank. From there, I moved to the contact centre and then to the head office at FNB where I became a data quality analyst. I did reconciliations, so my background is also in finance. That’s where my passion for processing started, which then led to technology. I then moved to become a business analyst where I was tasked to build all types of automated reconciliations for different journeys. I then became a senior business analyst with a more strategic role in terms of the programmes I ran. Then I became a solutions architect in the team. By the age of 24 years, I had become a manager of 16 people. I then moved to another bank where I was exposed to RPA. I worked on one of the first RPA projects in South Africa. I then had a short stint in mining specialising in shared services. That’s when I was approached for my current position here at Vodacom.
What did you study?
My undergrad is in financial management. Because I was working at the bank, all financial services were underpinned by technology. I also completed an MBA at Wits Business School.
Your MBA research topic was The Impact of Robotics on Unemployment Levels. What were some of your findings?
My research showed that technology has an impact on the type of jobs that can be automated – and that’s 70 per cent of the current roles we know. It also highlighted that there are new jobs that are being created but they are only in industries or economies that are growing at a double-digit growth rate. In the South African landscape, that’s not where we are right now. This is an uncomfortable transitional phase for us as a country. My research also highlighted the types of jobs primarily done by women. So think of an admin back office job. It’s a very female-based function. You can then imagine the ripple effect of that in society if we do not upskill people or grow as an economy. The hardest-hit jobs will be the entry-level ones, and a lot of women have not gone to university and have not moved past those jobs. It has been highlighted that historically, people end up in a better position because of technology, but the pace that technology moved in in the other Industrial Revolution is different to what is happening now. Policymakers need to be aware that this is happening fast. We also need to make sure that as a society we do not recreate roles that have become redundant.
What do you think upcoming graduates should be aware of?
Technology changes all the time. Some people could have started their degree four years ago and by the time they graduate, the type of role they wanted to fit into, companies are no longer looking for. People who are studying need to constantly do an environmental scan and assess “Is what I am studying still relevant?”. They need to be aware of what is changing as well as the type of jobs being advertised. They need to track which roles are being advertised more and perhaps move in that direction.
What do you think are some of the careers that will be popular in the future?
Interestingly enough, I believe there will come a point where the tech industry will be saturated with people who can develop and code, and there will be such a premium being paid for therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. Just think of the number of people dealing with mental health concerns and artificial intelligence can’t entirely help, as you can’t automate the human touch, emotional intelligence or empathy. I believe we will be forced to become more human as technology can only do so much. Sure I cannot think of an industry that will not be penetrated by technology. The differentiator will be the human aspect.
In SA, what are some of the benefits of robotics?
It leads to a faster turnaround time as technology can do some things faster than people can. It has changed how customers are being serviced. Technology is the base of everything and can give a company a competitive advantage. Robotics comes with greater accuracy. If you programme a machine to do something, the likelihood of it not doing the activity accurately is slim. If a person was doing it, on the other hand, they can make mistakes and some mistakes are costly.
What exciting developments can we expect in the robotics field?
We need to reinvent our definition of customer service. People think technology is going to take over – I think it will take over to a point. The repetitive transactions can be automated and will be automated. However, when it comes to more complex and unique customer matters, that’s where I believe the human aspect of customer service should play a role. It would be helpful to speak to one person who would then follow up, which then improves engagement. This may increase customer retention in that customers will feel less like a number and more as if they matter.
What’s the role of robotics in driving social change?
More women need to be upskilled in understanding how I.T. (Information Technology) has an impact in daily life. There needs to be more programmes that are output based and ensure that women are not further left behind.
What advice do you have for women who want to get into robotics?
Women are generally closer to the problems in society as they are the ones hardest hit. People need to look at technology as an enabler as it can be used to solve many societal problems. Robotics is process efficiency driven and you can get an online certification. You can also study computer science. Maths is also important.