Saturday, 07 October 2017 00:23

Do you think mobile apps are going to take our jobs

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I am a programmer, I develop software. I have done mobile apps, desktop software and web applications. I have developed system and I have integrated and customized many enterprise systems.

Most of the time I look for business operation that can be improved by using software and or a combination of software and hardware whatever tickles it.
I many instances I do replace a tedious manual operation done by someone all day every day, I create a software and boom all they need to do is press a button and they are done for the day. In most instances given the right ecosystem and good integration strategy I may even replace that click of button with an auto execute mode where there is event that satisfy the condition the software executes the command without you telling it.  

A while a go there use to be insurance brokers who go around and collect insurance quotations and advise you on the best cost effective package. They built their career on that and raised their children. Now a days there are online engines that do the comparison, provide you reliable information in fraction of second.
In social occasions, with friends we often discuss about robots taking our jobs away. We often laugh it off; but it is not as quite far-fetched as it would  sound when you say “we will have a robot maid that cleans a house” and another robot that “do the farming for us” and all that; hell you may even imagen a robot president that lead our country.

The truth is that it has being happening all these years. When we talk about this we are not really talking about a stiff looking guy with weird sound and movement going about the office. Look at the millions of mobile apps that are described as disruptive, changing and shaping how we do business every day. Most of the time as these technologies come to our ‘territory’ we often adapt, shift or adopt it as a tool. Some of-course are faced with a bit of resistance. Uber is one that comes to mind where conventional taxi drivers raised hell about it.

Disruptive technology is a necessity & the cost is adaptation and adoption

Our own RFID based library management system was faced with some resistance in more than one occasion. On the conventional barcode based libraries, librarians will have to scan the barcode of each book in the library to do the inventory (stock taking ). From our studies a library as small as 3000 book will take about 2 days to conduct inventory using one librarian. With the RFID based library system you will be done with the whole inventory exercise in about 20 minutes. The inventory task is as simple as walking thru the library shelves with a hand held RFID scanner. Something which you normally do when you want to entertain yourself off the chair you sit for hours. Moreover you don’t have to close the library for inventory, you have a mobile app installed on a mobile device that communicates to your mainframe (library management system) and automatically check which books are borrowed, which once are supposed to be in the library but were not found. It flags them and you can do targeted search for the specific books which are not found during the scanning of the library. 

So the first reaction to such a system is obviously is that ‘o boy there goes my job!’ But if you really look at it closely, this system is not replacing your job because your job was never about the tedious barcode scanning in the first place actually it is something you hate doing. It is a system that actually enable you to be the librarian not the inventory guy/lady. You will have more time being librarian, you will have more time to analyse data of usage, trends and patterns, Dewey classifications etc. On the other hand as management of library you often wanted more of your librarians, their input on an a proposal or report , way of doing things, the implementation of some of your future plan on the library but hey they had to do their daily routine – no chance of having a brainstorming session but now you got them. This may be a very specific example and other fields and industries may not fit exactly to what I am trying to say but at the end of the day what I noticed was that the automation rarely take our profession away but the things we need to do so that we can be better in our profession.

Take your own medicine

This applies to programmers like myself too. Without going far back looking at recent developments, to have a basic android mobile app you will need someone to do it for you. You hire a programmer you tell him you need three pages ‘home” about us “and “contact us”. You give him your logo and text to go with each page. The programmer will code each page with html5 or whatever it is that he/she uses.

Nowadays you can get it done with an online free script based services and rapid development platforms that you simply upload your logo and text and boom your app is ready. Does that mean I am out of job now? The answer is it depends. You see, over the years my job has been evolving fast - like mad-fast and it sometimes forks my head so bad, I don’t know which technology to read about or what to prioritise. I still remember those old days where I had to write a code for a button on an interface and manually apply style. I had to create a nice button so that the algorism I wrote not only work but looks presentable as well. Quite frankly designing a button has very little to do with my software development profession or putting pages up is simply on the margins of what I went to school for. My heart is on the real problem solving part where I design a software and write an algorism that produces real solution to my client’s daily challenge. Now scripts and advanced visual IDE (integrated development Environment) enables me spend more time on building the brain and not spend my time on the donkey work of theming it. 

Ok I hear you but what about the labour?

You might ask. Technology and automation does not take the labour away rather it forces the unskilled labourer to acquire some skill. I will give you example. We have a product called AuZo which is used for field data capture. Basically the system have a mobile app loaded on a tablet and a back end system that receives data from all the mobile devices all over the field. The system also enables you to do data analysis in real time as the data trickles in.

This system now affects the field workers that use to log data using pen and paper and those that use to sit at the call centres typing the data into a spreadsheet or some kind of database application.
From our experience, in the few occasions we deployed the system all the field workers were trained how to use the data capture system more specifically the mobile app and continued with their work. But what happened was that in some instances filed workers who were capturing 10 or 15 data entries per day now can actually capture about 50 to 60. Moreover, the mobile app alerts the field worker for some data errors, incomplete forms etc … making their work much more accurate and also things are simplified by dropdown menu and boxes to tick etc … their job is a breath.

On the other hand, data capturing staff that use to type in the data from completed paper forms are trained to handle data analysis; they monitor and generate reports on hourly rate ( in one of our deployment ) presenting it to their supervisor with recommendations for adjustments and other actions.

What’s is more is that the employer realized a higher quality of data pushing their output and decision making processes much more efficient. Moreover it freed a significant part of their workforce time to expand and specialize in the core services they offer. 

Now this is where the fallacy sits. “An employer will let go employees so as to save money” if you follow this statement you will end up with a conclusion that “an employer with no employees saves the most”. The truth is that an employer will let go of everything including equipment’s and employees or even business strategy that is not efficient and is not fitting. 

A while ago, before the ‘invention’ of tractors farmers use to hire a lot of labourers to plough the land. As the time changes, farming grew the demand for automation was in evitable otherwise we will not be able to feed the growing population hence the need for tractors and other machineries. Was it possible at that time to stop people using tractors so that they control unemployment? yes it was but it was not done rather employers found the freedom to create more tasks and expand their farming using the freed up labour that were willing to change and adopt themselves to the change; learn more and acquire more skill make themselves relevant to the value chain.

As a programmer you are my employer. If I don’t offer you superior software and service much better than what you can get from automated scripts then I am out of employment. My algorism should be able to solve your problem and my support need to be excellent and of course I must be worth your investment. Otherwise your clients which are your employers will not need you anymore and you will not need me.