Roman Mykhailyshyn, Robotic Process Automation Technical Lead at Ciklum.
Roman has 14 years of experience delivering software solution to clients of different sizes (from small startups to big enterprises) and business domains. Last 3 years focusing on RPA and Intelligent automation solutions that aimed to reduce operational costs and improve customer experience.
Pick up any science-fiction novel from the 1960s and the shiny dream of a bright future with robot helpers improving humanity leaps off the page like an eager puppy. While the field of hardware-driven robotics has not advanced to the point of electronic butlers or (thankfully) Terminator rogues patrolling the streets, a recent revolution in software-facing robotics is steering the next generation of operations productivity.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a simple concept – a software solution designed to robotically handle mundane or repetitive tasks for a growing organisation. If you’ve ever employed a program to automatically handle emails – congratulations, you’ve used a primitive RPA.
Using RPA, organisations deploy AI-fueled software (that’s the robot) to trigger specific actions – communications, alerts, chat sessions, transactions or data analysis – when certain conditions are met. Think of it as an “If This-Then Do That” machine.
Common applications include invoicing, banking transaction processing, human-resource data tracking and insurance paperwork management.
RPA solutions tend to focus on tasks that are routine, high volume, limited in decision-making options, prone to human error or tasks that require manual data entry. And the trend is exploding – a recent Forrester Research analysis predicted RPA spending would top $1 billion by the end of 2019 and grow to $1.5 billion by the end of this year.
“We predicted that intelligent automation will replace one-fifth of service desk interactions. Service desk interactions are on the rise and are keeping this prediction on track,” Craig Le Clair, Vice President, Principal Analyst for Forrester said. “Cognitive systems, robotic process automation, and various chatbot technologies have combined to keep pace with this prediction.”
Benefits of RPA
As noted above, RPA can take the drudgery out of traditional business tasks – but what are the tangible benefits for a vibrant organization?
Cost Savings & Staff Satisfaction
Replacing a human worker with an RPA for mundane, repetitive tasks is the most obvious case of clear cost savings. Sceptics may claim RPAs will decimate the workforce going forward. However, studies show that – while some workforce reduction is inevitable – deploying RPA frees workers to focus on more creative, productive projects and leaves them feeling more satisfied with their jobs.
“People who worry about job losses to automation tend to overlook the unprecedented data explosion businesses are experiencing, now accelerating out of knowledge workers’ control and demanding automation to deal with it,” Lacity and Willcocks discovered. “Indeed, most of the RPA adopters we have studied have gone so far as to promise their employees that automation would not result in layoffs.”
Improved Customer Service
Since RPA can process redundant (read: boring) tasks at lightning speeds and with virtually no mistakes, companies report higher customer satisfaction rates after implementing a program.
Many companies have a problem with “Hit-By-A-Bus” Syndrome. That means that certain employees store a huge collection of know-how lodged between their ears inaccessible to their colleagues. If they were – heaven forbid – hit by a bus, gigabytes of process and procedure would be gone forever. Having highly skilled employees with that kind of institutional knowledge is necessary. However, such advanced human capital must be scalable so that any employee can pick up the slack if the worst happens. RPA provides a clear process trail that any sufficiently competent worker can travel quickly. Every step in the process is available for review at any time. That level of transparency also then leverages process data for analysis down the road.
Tips for Implementing RPA
1.Identify the First Step
Just as any manager must write a job description for a human worker, RPA “employees” will need to be well defined in terms of expectations and outcomes. Identify which tasks may be applicable to RPA deployment – ask employees what kind of tasks drain their productivity due to repetitiveness.
2.Conduct Job Interviews
The idea of sitting down with a HAL 9000 to discuss its personal goals and favourite hobbies is a giggle-making exercise but, in some ways, an RPA must go through an “interview process.” Usually, this will involve partnering with RPA experts to define the job, review the best “candidate” RPA and create an onboarding process. Experienced companies can offer deep experience in the identification, optimization and deployment of modern, robust RPA systems.
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
By partnering with an RPA expert, your organisation can not only create the optimal deployment plan, but also craft an appropriate communication rollout to staff. The last thing any management team needs is a rumour mill fed with “The Robots are Taking Over” myths.
4. Think Long Term
As with any emerging tech, RPA is the shiny new kid on the block but, as is the case with all tech, today’s hot commodity is tomorrow’s “also-ran”. RPA is here to stay. However, the state of RPA in 2020 will look like Superman in comparison to RPA of 2017-19. Make sure your RPA system is adaptable to light-speed evolution. Like any MVP employee, your RPA system needs constant training and development.
RPA is one piece of the automation puzzle. Evolving systems will be able to integrate RPA, machine learning or natural language processing and build an automation all-star team that can face any future tech challenge.
“A bot is a tool in a toolkit, just like self-serve tools, work-flow tools, lean-process maps or six-sigma methodologies,” McKinsey Digital senior partner Vik Sohoni notes: “Companies need to apply these tools as part of an orchestrated action, not in isolation.”