Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has become a hot topic in many industries amongst all walks of life but what does it mean for you and why is it important?
What are we talking about?
We are talking about using software technology to automate repetitive and rule-based tasks currently performed by human beings – people in many different jobs across various industries such as Insurance, Financial Services, Central and Local Government, Utilities, Retail, Telco, Health and Transport & Logistics. These are the industries that have seen the most action so far and are expected to continue to see a lot of innovation in how RPA can be implemented and best utilised.
RPA software is able to crunch large amounts of data rapidly and effortlessly without error in ways human beings are just not capable of. Once business rules have been established, the system makes decisions consistently and accurately – every time. There is no employee fatigue, slipups or judgement calls and information can be processed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With RPA, processing times become predictable and consistent, ensuring that transactions are never prone to back-ups or delays due to employee illness or vacations, and high-quality customer service standards can be delivered across the board. Once properly implemented, changes to any process can be easily made by the business users and do not require the involvement of IT.
Processing Costs, Processing Time, FTE Headcount and Human-Error can be reduced dramatically while efficiency, speed of delivery and productivity increase. That these results can be achieved from an initiative that is relatively inexpensive likely explains why RPA is gaining traction so quickly in such a wide range of industries.
Are robots going to replace human beings?
As for concerns about how RPA impacts employment, we have yet to see the end result and this will depend on the degree of care exercised by organisations around social responsibility. It is up to the larger organisations in this space to lead the way in ensuring that those employees who are impacted are redeployed elsewhere in the business or able to expand their role to include new responsibilities that replace the tasks that can be automated. RPA can be a business enabler and businesses should hang onto employees who are familiar with the business, can help design the business rules and define the processes for RPA automation.
By automating tasks, RPA will impact many jobs by removing mundane and repetitive work flows and freeing up those workers to make better use of their skills elsewhere. Some of New Zealand’s leading pioneer organisations in this space are using the opportunity to create new career paths and better opportunities for workers with RPA simply assisting them to deliver higher quality outputs, faster. It is important for these leading organisations to maintain a sense of social responsibility when undertaking any RPA initiatives. Smaller businesses however, could leverage the technology to reach new heights where they would otherwise be stunted by a lack of financial backing, unable to grow the business and unable to provide constant processing.
FTEs freed up by RPA can be redirected to roles that focus on more human and creative tasks that computers are not yet able to perform. These employees can better be utilised to focus on positive customer outcomes and improving overall service. It is said that 22% of employee time is spent on repetitive and uncreative tasks that could be automated. These employees could potentially gain much more enjoyable career paths by removing such tedious workflows from their day.
Organisations operating in this space understand that the technology is still relatively new and are tapping into the graduate market for the resources needed to develop RPA, in combination with upskilling existing technical resources. This is because the skills required are not yet widespread in the market and since this technology is still maturing, we’re unlikely to find seasoned RPA professionals.
What is the low-hanging fruit?
Although the scope of the technology is limited to certain tasks at this point, it’s the low hanging fruit that has a fast return on investment. This includes:
Accounts payable and receivable
Employee, customer and supplier onboarding
Health and Safety, mobile timesheets and data capture
However, some RPA consultancies boast that anything a human can do, a robot can be programmed to do. That is yet to be seen and the technology has a long way to go yet but the rate of change in IT is faster than it has ever been.
RPA, Agile, Cloud and Test Automation are equipping companies for a future where innovation, disruption and constant change will occur even faster than the pace we are experiencing today. Organisations and individuals that can adapt, adjust and learn new skills quickly will rise to the top. Part of the change, they’ll be able to navigate these turbulent and exciting times and help to shape what these technologies will mean to the wider economy.