Project Untangled

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Project Untangled



    In the face of a labour shortage, automation can bolster worker autonomy, enhance job quality, and foster skill development, all without compromising overall employment, according to a recent study on shared services centres (SSCs) in Poland conducted by the EU-funded Project UNTANGLED.


    In their paper “Automation in Shared Services Centres: Implications for Skills and Autonomy in a Global Organisation”, Zuzanna Kowalik, Piotr Lewandowski, Tomasz Geodecki, and Maciej Grodzicki investigated SSCs, which are business units that handle back-office functions such as accounting, finance, human resources, and IT, to assess how automating tasks affects both the quantity and the quality of jobs.


    “Our study found that robots, algorithms, and bots introduced to SSCs did not reduce headcount or employees’ workloads, but changed the tasks they performed,” said Zuzanna Kowalik of the Institute for Structural Research. “These technologies eliminated “click work”, the monotonous, laborious tasks that workers find undesirable.”


    The researchers focused on the Polish SSC sector due to its popularity with global companies setting up such facilities. While the sector has experienced rapid growth over the last two decades, accounting for 6.7% of total business sector employment in Poland, it is marked by routine-intensive, repetitive jobs, making it particularly vulnerable to automation. The adoption of technologies such as robot process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and intelligent process automation (IPA) can easily replace human labour.

    In recent years, Polish service centres have increasingly adopted automation, with almost 60% now using solutions based on IPA, and an additional 30% planning implementation to optimise costs. Yet fears that automation will reduce employment have not yet materialised.


    This automation surge is happening against the backdrop of a labour shortage. The supply of educated graduates, a primary labour source for service centres, has dwindled due to demographic declines. Simultaneously, corporate headquarters have delegated more complex tasks to centres in Poland. With the growing demand for more complex skills and a limited number of people who can perform standard tasks, the automation of routine functions has emerged as a pragmatic solution to address labour shortages and improve the appeal of SSC jobs, facilitating the recruitment and retention of qualified candidates.


    “Employees of SCCs aren’t afraid of automation; it makes their work easier, and they can focus on more interesting, challenging tasks,” says study co-author Piotr Lewandowski. “In this sense, automation improved job quality by eliminating most mundane and repetitive chores.”


    While the approach to automation varies among firms, the researchers observed that employees of SSCs that adopt a bottom-up approach tend to enjoy greater autonomy and higher job satisfaction. This approach assumes active worker engagement in the automation process, with employees developing micro-solutions or enhancements to simplify and significantly shorten processes.


    Furthermore, employee involvement in the automation process contributes to skill development. As tasks evolve, workers must adapt to more advanced roles, emphasising personal and professional expertise. Entry-level workers benefit from increased demand for skills such as critical thinking.


    Kowalik, Z., Lewandowski, P., Geodecki, T., Grodzicki, M. (2023). Automation in Shared Service Centres: Implications for Skills and Autonomy in a Global Organisation,  IBS Working Paper 08/2023

    2021 © UNTANGLED. All rights reserved.
    This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101004776

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