Bots cut Wipro employee strength by 12,000

A NASA Robot

A pioneering artificial intelligence program that started getting deployed around mid-2016 has helped Wipro Ltd reduce its employee numbers by 12,000 people, the company said in its recent quarterly update.

“The HOLMES platform generated productivity worth over 12,000 people,” Saurabh Govil, head of human resources for the company, said.

The statistic points to a stronger-than-expected ramp up for the artificial intelligence platform, which helps the company use ‘intelligent’ machines to do jobs that was being done by humans.

The milestone of 12,000 also represents an increase from the 7,000 achieved as of December last year.

Speaking in January this year, company CEO Abidali Neemuchwala had said that the automation program had helped it “deliver productivity and redeploy 7,000 Wiproites across 120 customer engagements” as of December 2016.

The 12,000 number also indicates that the automation program has been far more successful for the company that it had expected. In October 2016, Neemuchwala has revealed much smaller target.

“While we plan to release 4,500 people across the year through Hyper-Automation, we have already been able to release about 3200 in Q2 (July-September),” he had said.

In other words, the expectation of the company in June last year was to be able to release 4,500 people by the end of March 2017, but it was able to release 3,200 in the first three months and 7,000 by the end of December.

Not surprisingly, the company’s hiring has declined in recent quarters.

According to its quarterly ‘fact sheet’, the total number of employees in its IT services division was 1,65,481 at the end of March, which implied an addition of just 1,305 people in the three months from January to March this year.

The trend of lower employee additions and shifting of workload away from human beings on to ‘intelligent computers’ is not confined to Wipro.

Others such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Ltd and Cognizant have also been working on using artificial intelligence to replace humans, though their success may not be as spectacular.

Intelligent software programs handle a variety of workflows, and are advanced enough to even have a phone conversation with a client customer to help that person troubleshoot cable TV or cellphone service.

In many cases, the person at the other end of the conversation does not even realize that he or she is talking to a machine.

In addition, these programs are also used in maintaining, updating and troubleshooting computing infrastructure, testing software programs and so on.

The IT and BPO industry employs around 40 lakh (4 mln) people in India directly and contributes about 10% of India’s GDP.

While companies have in general said that people who lose their jobs to automation will be retrained in other areas, Capgemini’s India head Srinivas Kandula recently said that only 35% of the people whose jobs are taken away by automation are suitable to be retrained.

Speaking at the annual Nasscom summit in February, Kandula said IT companies have not been as proactive as they could have been in ensuring that their employees continued to learn new skills even as they continued to dispense their regular functions.

It is not just IT jobs that will be done by machines. According to World Bank president Jim Kim, 69% of all jobs currently done by humans — including in agriculture and factories — in India will be done by machines in the future.

Humans will move to more ‘creative’ jobs that cannot be done by machines.