Computers have always been ultimately about automating repetitive human tasks, be that on the shop floor or the back office. And it’s a trend that has got a new, robotic face in the form of something called Robotic Process Automation (RPA), demand for which is set to hit $1.3 billion this year.
There’s an unquestioned bottom-line benefit in replacing staff with a robot worker when it makes sense. According to Softomotive’s 2018 survey of medium-sized businesses motives and experiences of RPA adoption, 44% identified reduced operating costs as a main benefit, while Indian IT trade body NASSCOM reported cost savings of up to 65% for members adopting RPA. Finally, the Institute for Robotic Process Automation calculates that software robots can cost as little as a fifth of the overheads involved in employing staff full time.
Freeing up staff time for more business-critical tasks
Unlike people, robots can work around the clock, seven days a week; and not only that, they are able to complete repetitive tasks much more quickly.
RPA also promotes greater workflow accuracy, with some adopters claiming a complete elimination of error in some processes. One of the many benefits of RPA adoption mentioned in Softomotive’s industry survey was increased productivity, which came out on top (cited by 53% of respondents), while improved accuracy was the second most common benefit (mentioned by 47% of businesses).
Other research shows that being assured of high levels of accuracy also supports compliance and quality control, with automated processes being fully auditable. And robots being able to perform repetitive administrative tasks more quickly and accurately than people also frees up employees to focus attention on other tasks – in particular, those that can add more value to business operations, and which need the human touch. Arvato Bertelsmann found that 96% of respondents approached automation with the intention of freeing up staff time for more business-critical tasks.
No wonder many adopters of RPA report rapid and substantial returns on investment. One study from the Everest Group found that the average company could expect to double its investment in initial returns, rising to a multiple of four for the top performers. In another stand-out example, Telefonica 02 reported an ROI of a claimed “650-800%” within three years of applying RPA to transactional processes.
Get basic RPA bedded-in before you go to full AI
Sounds highly promising – but with any business investment, it is essential that you have a clear and detailed plan for your RPA deployment. Only then can you really identify which processes are the strongest contenders for exploiting the power of the approach, especially ones used very frequently or that are highly repetitive in nature.
RPA tool evaluation should be grounded on an extensive appraisal of the benefits it can provide to your business. You will want to look at the vendor’s track record deploying RPA, the type of support being offered, and its ability to future proof automation tools. You also need to look at the feasibility of managing this in-house or if you need to turn to an external partner. A partner can provide consultancy, deployment and ongoing management that ensures your tools are optimised to provide performance driven engagements, for example.
Finally, as consultants Deloitte caution, get basic RPA right before looking at adding in cognitive and AI-based technologies. While automation actions do not require that much change within the organisation, AI brings with it bigger demands. By starting with the basis of RPA, you can gain confidence in the use of the tools before making the big step to AI.
Through the levels of automation and improved accuracy RPA can offer, brands can significantly improve both customer service and employee work-life balance while benefiting from efficiency gains and cost savings, moving your company to the next level of business excellence.