Roland Dürre
Thursday June 14th, 2018


Walk & Think in the springtime sun.
Englischer Garten, Munich, 2018, 11th of Avril

In my conversations with young friends, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) has soften been introduced to me as the new “business hype topic“.

Officially, my first contact with RPA was at the “Symposium Digitale Verwaltung“ – which was organized by ITSMF – on April, 24th, 2018 in Nuremberg.

As you can see from the agenda, the “crème de la crème” of German digitalization was there. And, besides the topics “block-chain” and “artificial intelligence, which are probably unavoidable these days, many presentations were about RPA .

Then I found an article  in the facebook forum  Agile Administration | Exchange and Peer Counselling, which unfortunately is a closed community (due to the high quality of its discussions in this forum) with a comment that contained a note about Johann Herzberg, who is a group leader at the “county-wide IKT strategy” in the Berlin Senate of Interior Affairs.

”… the smart, i.e. automatically and real-time self-controlled, organization of situations and processes. (…) it is imaginable and probably, for reasons of efficiency, even desirable that an application system that is embedded in an AI environment can promote and finalize processes independently in the future. In the smart world, control will no longer happen through written notes but through decisions that will most likely have been reached through algorithms and only corrected by humans where necessary.“

This statement is an excellent description of the current development. Also, it will not only happen in public offices, but also in many areas of the “free economy” where white-collar jobs dominate, for instance everywhere in the financial sector. This future development is also called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Many protagonist assume that RPA will cost many well-paid jobs. I am not yet quite sure how to judge this development. I will write an IF blog article about it. Various aspects…

Well, the statement is really loaded, isn’t it? Official orders will no longer be written by humans but by machines (robots). I am sure there are quite a few people who will not like the idea. But then, the assumption is that humans are expensive and IT is cheap. And that humans make mistakes and machines do not. There is certainly some truth in this.

As I see it, Herzberg describes the current development quite well. I find the definition of “smart” in the context of organization quite appealing.

However, I have two reservations:

My opinion about the first sentence is that such a system that processes these applications will not need artificial intelligence. In my book, “artificial intelligence” is a “self-learning system”. And a fully automated organization that controls itself in real-time is probably necessary even for “traditional programming” (the implementation of what today is often called algorithms) and will not need artificial intelligence.

About the second sentence: of course, there will still be decisions that come as a written “order”. The data with the results will continue to be saved in digital form. It does not really matter if these (hopefully public) entries in a database will then be embedded in traditional text and perhaps even printed on paper. Because also an “order document” on paper has its inner semantics and therein structured data that symbolize the result of the “order”.

The development Herzberg describes will not only take place in probably all sectors of public administration but also in many (all?) areas of “free economy“.  I am sure this development will be particularly obvious in the white-collar jobs. The financial sector is a good example. Many employees who now earn good money in banks and insurance companies will probably become redundant. It might happen quite soon.

This future development is also called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Many protagonists assume that RPA will kill well-paid jobs on a huge scale.

Personally, I am not really worried. We had the same situation frequently in the past. In Germany, most of the jobs used to be in agriculture. Today, the number of people working in agriculture is by far the minority. Then we had industries such as the coal and textile industries. They also disappeared, just like the big post-war heroes Grundig, Telefunken and others. Just like the German automobile industry will some day disappear.

But we will certainly come up with new nonsense that absolutely needs to be produced in order to give us something to occupy our time with. And if there really comes a time when we want to restrict ourselves to the necessities – and perhaps that is what we will have to do in order to save the world – then there will be two options. Either we will finally be allowed to work less. Which is what I would like best.

However, I assume that the idea that less is more and growth is nonsense will only dawn on us when it is too late. And then we will have to really work hard in order to survive.

(Translated by EG)


  1. Hans Bonfigt (Thursday June 14th, 2018)

    Oh, Roland !
    Das ist eine logische Entwicklung — denn nachdem die menschliche Intelligenz, speziell in der Abart des “Johann Herzberg” gescheitert ist, muß die künstliche Intelligenz herhalten.

    Und ich traue einer gammeligen Relaiskiste aus den 50ern 10 Mal mehr Intelligenz zu als einem jämmerlichen Informatikerwürstchen, das von einer “sich in Echtzeit steuernden Organisation” faselt.

    Das wirklich Schlimmste aber dabei ist, daß nicht wenigstens ein halbes Dutzend Fachleute aufstöhnt.
    Denn “Echtzeit” (realtime) ist ein in der Kybernetik glasklar definierter Begriff und bezeichnet eine Reaktion, die keineswegs schnell sein muß, dafür aber zeitlich deterministisch.

    Pipibubis, die solche Begriffe in anderen Zusammenhängen verwenden, disqualifizieren sich selbst und verseuchen die Branche womöglich noch mehr.
    Kein Wunder, daß solche Spinner nur noch im öffentlichen Sektor Unterschlupf finden. Gottseidank bin ich als RAF-Sympathisant implizit auch Staatsfeind. Und da sage ich, Pfeifen vom Schlage “Johann Herzberg” sind eine wesentlich effektivere Neuauflage des “Marsches durch die Instanzen”.

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