Looking at the benefits of Robotic Process Automation
Automation has frequently topped the lists of technology’s favourite buzzwords in recent years, and for good reason. It’s not difficult to understand how using robots can drastically improve productivity levels in industries such as manufacturing, construction and retail. They are faster, can work in dangerous conditions, and don’t get tired like their human counterparts. But what about those businesses where manual labour isn’t required? Can the services sector – and your average office worker – benefit from a little robotic assistance?
In spite of advances in the capabilities of robots, we’re not likely to see the arrival of mechanical receptionists or desk job employees any time soon. Move away from the idea of robots in the traditional sense, however, and there is a way that all businesses can take advantage of the increased productivity they represent: Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
D/SRUPTION spoke to Param Kahlon, Chief Product Officer at UiPath – a leading RPA provider – to find out what this particular kind of automation has to offer.
Let’s talk RPA
Unlike other kinds of robotic automation, you won’t find RPA users tinkering with heavy machinery. Instead, they’ll be sat at their computers as normal, working towards the same outcomes they would usually do. The difference, as Kahlon explains, is the way that some of these tasks are completed.
“RPA is a set of tools that helps companies take repetitive processes and deploy them to robots,” he says. “These are the kinds of tasks that are very deterministic and which humans do without applying a lot of thinking. By giving the processes to robots we can free up humans to focus on things that really matter to the organisation and things that make them happy – things where they can use more of their intellect and their human life skills, such as empathy.”
In an example of how RPA can make employees more productive, Kahlon sets out one of UiPath’s recent use cases with a bank in Japan. The starting point was a highly inefficient process for advising customers in branch.
“This bank has thousands of financial services advisors who meet with customers in half hour appointments,” says Kahlon. “For every half hour appointment the advisor had to spend an additional half hour before the meeting as prep time. They confirmed the appointment and pulled up the customer’s information from a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. But then they had to go to the various different core banking systems to see what types of products the customer had, so they knew what different products or services they could talk to them about.”
“With our technology the bank now deploys a robot that does all these things for them. Firstly, it confirms the appointment with the customer 12 hours before their arrival. It then goes to the bank’s different IT systems and pulls out the relevant data, takes that data, and feeds it to a machine learning algorithm. The algorithm comes back and says: ‘customers with this profile are also likely to buy this kind of product,’ and all of this is sent in a report to the financial services advisor. The advisor can read the report in a couple of minutes, so now it takes them five minutes to get ready for their meeting.”
As well as making the financial services advisor more productive, this example also demonstrates how RPA relieves human employees of mundane tasks – the kind of basic, repetitive jobs that are part of our roles but which we really wish we didn’t have to do…
What’s more, in certain cases RPA is able to add capacity to the workforce in times of greater demand. In the cyclical world of finance, for example, instead of hiring additional labour or making existing employees work longer hours at busy points in the fiscal year, robots can be created in quiet times which can be deployed as and when they are needed.
Improving the customer experience
As anyone who has ever applied for a mortgage, taken out a loan, or even just opened a bank account knows, the process always seems far more complicated than it has to be. Proving your credentials regarding identity, address or income level traditionally requires a lot of paper evidence and documents to sign. These have to be read and certified by the right people in the provider organisation, leading to lengthy delays and a lot of frustration on the part of the customer.
As Kahlon notes, with RPA, things don’t have to be like this. Companies such as UiPath aim to drive digital transformation, minimising the levels of human interference that are required in these kinds of processes to drastically improve customer experience.
“Take mortgages,” says Kahlon. “Today, if you apply for a mortgage it takes a really long time – maybe six to eight weeks – to process. And most of the time is spent by a person on the other side who’s collecting information and documents from you and putting them into different systems.”
“What usually happens if you apply for a mortgage from a bank is that they will tell you they need X, Y, and Z documents. You might say, “OK I’ll email them on Friday night.” If you email them on Friday night nobody will look at them until the middle of the following week, then they’ll put them into various systems – usually there’s about ten different systems they have to go through – so it will take a really long time.”
“What we can do is deploy a robot that at 10pm on the Friday extracts the information that it needs from the documents, calls the loan application system, and gets a confirmation whether or not the loan can be approved. If the loan is approved the robot can go to the next application, which is to send an inspector round to the home to make sure it actually exists and is stable.”
“Overall, this means that if a customer sends an email at 10pm, they get an email back at 10:05pm saying their loan is approved and that a home inspector will be at the property at 9am on Tuesday to do an assessment. This delivers efficiencies to the company but the customer also doesn’t have to wait five days to find out what happened to their loan, with all the anxiety that surrounds this.”
A transient technology?
One interesting aspect of RPA is that, as effective as it is in improving business processes, it could to a certain degree be interpreted as making itself redundant. This is because it is designed to fix inefficiencies in systems. So, if all systems are improved by RPA in future, then the technology will have achieved its aim and will no longer be needed, right? Not so, according to Kahlon, as this state of affairs is far too remote to be a pressing concern.
“This is a question a lot of people have,” he says. “If we had Utopia, would everything always be automated and there would never be a need for RPA? I wish we could get there. But, I think that it is very, very far away because what I see in enterprises today is still a lot of Mainframe systems.”
“In fact as companies are moving to the cloud I’m also seeing the dichotomy of systems increasing, not decreasing. In the past, you’d say “let’s just put everything in a mainframe or a business suite,” and you’d just use one system to run the process. What we’re seeing now is that people are buying best of breed applications. I’m buying Salesforce for CRM and I’m buying Workday for HR and SAP Ariba for procurement… Now we actually have processes that are more spread out rather than less spread out.”
Thankfully for Kahlon and his team, this means they won’t have to fear for the future of their jobs any time soon.
“Until the time a business process is going to go live across systems, we will continue to exist,” he says. “And even when you have the entire business process living in one system, a business process never sits in IT in isolation. It usually starts from somebody picking up the phone or sending an email, so it has to go from the email to the business application, then to a partner application… As long as these connections exist across these systems there will be use cases for our technology. I think demand is growing not decreasing.”
Adoption across the board
The growing demand for RPA solutions is particularly pertinent given the broad applications it finds in business. Last year, UiPath saw a significant chunk – 40 per cent – of its deployments in Finance and Administration (F&A) departments, but the technology is also being used in Human Resources, Contact Centres, Sales and Marketing, Customer Service and Supply Chain Management.
Generally, as Kahlon states, once the management of one department gets behind RPA, other areas of the business are quick to follow.
“Usually our engagement model is to convince a line of business owner to try the technology to drive productivity. They’ll try it and they’ll see some gains and then they’ll go and spread the word around the rest of the company.”
“We’re seeing use cases in all different things,” he adds. “In 2019 we think F&A will still be the biggest area for us, but we will be seeing other pies especially the ones specific to front office automation, like customer service, sales, shared services and marketing getting bigger.”
According to Kahlon, the future of RPA certainly seems bright. At D/SRUPTION, we’d have to agree. This is why we listed strategic automation as one of our top disruptive technology trends for 2019. For businesses seeking to boost productivity, increase the wellbeing of their employees and improve customer experience, all at the same time, there’s little else that can compare. Bring on the robotic process automation revolution.
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