Robotic process automation: it’s an industry estimated to be worth a billion dollars by 2020, and it’s building your future colleagues – robots.
I sat down with Mike Hobday, Vice President and General Manager of IBM Automation Europe, to find out what RPA really brings to an organisation.
So, how important is RPA to a digital transformation?
RPA gives businesses the opportunity to eliminate routine, rule-based work, by handing over these tasks to a “digital workforce”. And even if you don’t find the prospect of robot colleagues exciting, the opportunities RPA opens up for businesses certainly are.
“It’s a bit like climbing Mount Everest. ” Says Mike. “If digital transformation is the top, then I think most people are starting to think of robotic process automation as the base camp.” Over time, automation will become even more sophisticated, able to exchange information with other devices without human involvement, understand what’s going on in photographs and videos, consume web forms and emails and understand voice.
“Robots independently controlling each other: this is the fourth industrial revolution,” Mike adds. “This frees people up to focus on judgement, creativity, innovation and empathy – things that robots can’t do. And RPA is the entry point to all that.”
What are the biggest benefits?
The benefits of RPA are very well documented, but it’s the opportunity for cost reduction that is really engaging clients.
“I have one client where a set of activities was taking 43 minutes. A robot executes that in 13 minutes – with a much lesser risk of mistakes.”
Businesses can also look forward to more fulfilled staff, because they don’t have to spend time on manual routine processes, and instead, can focus their attention on business critical or tasks of personal interest.
“One example, which my team built, is a blue prism robot that can order Papa Johns for them when they’re working late. It can order 30 pizzas in 45 seconds – that’s a significant time-saver.”
And of course, all of this means a quicker, more accurate experience for the customer – impacting positively on NPS scores.
That brings us to the big question… will robots eliminate jobs?
Mike certainly believes that jobs as we traditionally understand them will change. But no, it won’t be for the worse.
“Some roles will go, but a more productive, engaged workforce doing more interesting things doesn’t mean a smaller workforce.”
In fact, Mike thinks that the advent of generation Z means it’s the right time for manual processes to be eliminated. “People are expecting more from work, they want it to be satisfying and meaningful. I think automation will provide that.”
As a business, where do I start?
From Mike’s experience, HR, Finance and Procurement are the early adaptor industries to jump on the automation bandwagon.
“To give you some idea of the scale: we recently worked with a client where we had 650 people working in HR, finance and procurement and some application support.
After doing an analysis, we realised automation had the potential to take out 150 heads. But when I say ‘take out’ that doesn’t mean to say those resources would be leaving the organisation – it’s just they wouldn’t be doing wasteful, inefficient work.”
Will businesses who don’t use automation now be left behind?
Research shows that 80% of organisations are already experimenting with robotic process automation, suggesting the answer might be yes (though much fewer have managed to adopt at scale).
Mike thinks it comes back to people. If you don’t experiment with the newest technologies – from RPA, to AI, to Machine Learning – you’ll miss the window to build competencies in-house.
“There’s a battle for talent out there. If you leave it too late, you’ll find it very difficult to get the talent to drive the change in your organisation. So, experiment, explore the areas in which automation adds value, then expand and amplify as fast as you can.”