The ‘rise of the machines’? – RPA and what it means for you
The Information Age welcomed in a fundamental shift in our society, with our economy now powered by information and technology instead of traditional industry.
The impact of smart technologies on the workplace has been incalculably huge to date, and it doesn’t look like the rapid pace of change will slow anytime soon.
In the near future, we will have to come to terms with the reality of far more non-human workers in our offices and the way we work fundamentally changing to accommodate them. However, we shouldn’t necessarily fear a ‘rise of the machines’, with the ‘robot revolution’ predicted to create 58 million jobs for humans by 2022.
There’s a seismic shift to come in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms. The important questions to be asked now are “what does this mean for me?” and “how can this revolution work in my favour?”
INTRODUCING YOUR ROBOTIC CO-WORKER
The digital revolution has well-and-truly begun. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has already started to impact all manner of industries.
RPA is best described as specially-configured software designed to complete tasks that would otherwise have to be completed by a human. The software or “robot” essentially replicates the human’s actions and completes the task faster and more accurately than a ‘flesh and blood’ worker ever could.
RPA usually takes over routine, repetitive and labour-intensive jobs, such as complex data entry or the triaging of large volumes of customer communications. Basically, RPA software can be used to fill out those lengthy spreadsheets more effectively, and less painfully, than human counterparts.
That is, of course, if they are correctly programmed from the outset.
WHAT IMPACT COULD RPA HAVE?
RPA looks set to be a game-changer. In fact, the folks at McKinsey & Company predict it to be the second-most impactful disruptive technology, losing out only to mobile internet and wireless technologies.
The economic impact of RPA is far-reaching, with the National Association of Software and Services Companies suggesting its implementation could see companies gain a cost reduction of 35 to 65% for onshore process automation and 10 to 30% in offshore delivery.
On a global scale, the compounded annual growth rate of RPA is predicted to be around 60.5% worldwide through to 2020, with the additional labour productivity of new technology said to be the equivalent of the output of between 110 million and 140 million workers. This would be a significant boost to both profits and productivity. McKinsey & Company suggest the overall economic impact of RPA could potentially be as high as US$6.7 trillion by 2025.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF USING RPA IN MY BUSINESS?
The cost savings RPA can deliver are compelling for operations-leads and senior managers alike, particularly when considering that the technology is scalable and fairly easy to implement. Add to this benefits such as 24 / 7 availability, improved accuracy and little in the way of ‘extra spend’ once implemented, you have a potentially transformative tool on your hands.
While RPA may eventually come to replace humans in some roles, these will typically be mundane, repetitive and administrative tasks, freeing up employees to apply their knowledge and experience to other, more fulfilling parts of a job. The human error associated with such menial and repetitive tasks can be significantly reduced, along with the time taken to complete processes. Robots don’t get “screen blind” or foggy after a long day spent staring at spreadsheets, after all.
Let’s not forget that RPA also offers the potential for more useful business insight, thanks to enhanced reporting capability and automation of data-gathering.
ARE THERE ANY RISKS TO RPA??
While RPA should mean reduced room for human error, there are still some perceived risks associated with implementing the technology.
Robots are simple when it really comes down to it. They accept instruction from the humans who write their code and then go about their task. It almost goes without saying that these instructions need to be correct and fit-for-purpose from the outset, otherwise the robot will simply replicate errors until it is stopped.
There is obviously a case for bringing in operational experts who understand the challenges of RPA set-up and will be able to appropriate direct the automated process. It’s better to gain assurance before setting the robot on its merry way.
SOME OF THE COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT RPA
One of the most common objections to RPA, and artificial intelligence more broadly, is that there is potential for robots to replace humans in the workforce.
While advancing technology may see some roles become redundant, it will also create millions of jobs and free humans from mundane, repetitive tasks so that they can add value elsewhere, or otherwise pursue more fulfilling, creative work. This could potentially lead to a happier workforce delivering more meaningful value and solutions to our world’s greatest challenges.
Another misconception is that the cost of RPA is prohibitive for all but the biggest firms. While there are initial implementation costs and ongoing maintenance to bear in mind, when you consider the value of staff being able to focus on other business development activity – and the potential improvements to customer service that that may bring – an RPA solution has the potential to very quickly pay for itself.
Finally, some believe that RPA isn’t as flexible or applicable as it truly is. Most industries have costly and inefficient back office functions that RPA could eliminate. If you have a stable set of business rules that your operation follows daily, regardless of complexity, there is a very good chance that RPA would be a great fit for your business.
Are you ready for the RPA revolution?
Here are Huntswood, we already leverage RPA in many operations to help reduce the pressure on the human workforce, not to replace it.
We understand that human workers will always deliver the strongest, most creative and innovative solutions to problems, but we’ve also seen how scalable robotics solutions can lead to massive cost, time and effort savings.
Robotics experts should always be on hand to guide and program any process automation and ensure that the programme is given instructions that are fit-for-purpose.
Learning and development consultants should also be brought into support the human element in the transition to a robot-filled working environment. Think of them as the ‘people programmers’. New skills and new attitudes will, of course, be required in this rapidly changing world – but there are countless new opportunities to come with this.
Employing robots isn’t going to be a solution for every problem, but they can be incredibly effective co-workers when the going gets tough and the numbers need some serious crunching.