When we talk about the urgent need for organisations to undertake digital transformation, the necessity goes far beyond the business world. What we are seeing is a significant societal change where rapid advances in technology are allowing people to expect to live life on their own terms. Increasingly people demand 24/7 service, they assume that they can take delivery of purchased products within a day and they believe that they should have an influence on the services that businesses provide. As they attempt to move at the same speed as these customers however, businesses are being held back by the repetitive manual tasks that occupy much of their employees’ time. The task for executives across the C-suite is to transform their business’ operational structures in order to move at the same pace as their customers - this is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has a major role to play in our digital future.
The view from the top
The recent publication of the UK Government’s Transformation Strategy, which seeks to digitise public services, is a clear recognition that societal change is intertwined with and dependent on technological progress. Its focus is shifting more power to individual citizens and making every level of government more responsive to the needs of the people it serves. The same principles apply for businesses. Eradicating the manual tasks that slow businesses down, draining time and money, is pivotal to meeting the needs of modern customers - business or consumer.
In spite of the vast sums of money invested in technology to meet these objectives, many businesses struggle to knit together the latest cloud-based systems with legacy IT and fall short of tapping into technology’s potential. ERP is a perfect example of this inefficiency. It is the lifeblood of so many enterprise organisations around the world, yet is held back from delivering its full value by the lack of integration with legacy applications. Employees are spending vast swathes of time transferring data to link the old and new of the IT environment, when they should really be benefiting from a new way of thinking about operations, an approach that RPA can facilitate.
Time for a change
The good news for businesses is that the economics of moving to RPA make sense. Over the last two years, the industry has grown at a rate of knots, to the point that it is now at a stage in its development that makes it an attainable option for companies. A single robot can automate the work of 3-5 humans, completing repetitive tasks that would otherwise be holding people back from doing more valuable work that will help the business grow. Most importantly however, such robots can now act unattended, allowing organisations to scale deployments across an entire workforce and enable operations 24/7.
Central to being able to do this effectively is computer vision. In order to identify and then act upon elements on the screen, a robot must look into the underlying application. Where this option is restricted, robots without computer vision will have to be reconfigured every time the screen changes; an interminably slow process. The ability to look into these underlying applications however, and adapt to the changing screen intuitively, is what sets apart the robots that can truly work unattended across an entire organisation from those that can’t. Furthermore, allying automation solutions with cognitive and AI capabilities will further improve their autonomy, allowing robots to cater for exceptions seamlessly to keep business moving at pace.
The time saving benefit is obvious but what will be critical for businesses is analysing the data that robots handle. Data analytics give organisations the chance to gain a competitive edge, regardless of the field in which they operate and it is this element of RPA that will allow businesses to increase revenues, not just reduce costs.
A strategic offering
The multi-faceted nature of RPA allows the CXO to approach the board with a comprehensive plan to optimise the way they utilise the workforce. On the one hand, the clear advantages of saving huge amounts of time and money by automating manual repetitive processes, will go straight to the bottom line.
However, beyond cost reduction lies the ability to rethink and reshape the way the business runs. You will be able to quickly achieve operational efficiencies, the standard of customer service be improved and error eliminate for example. However, by freeing up your human workforce to creative and strategic projects you can drive innovation and ideas generation.
It is this combination that will bring RPA to the boardroom table as a critical cog in the future of business. The industry is maturing with every month that passes and new use cases are being uncovered across different industries, as senior decision makers wake up to the latent potential they can unlock. The future is bright, both for enterprise businesses and their people.
Guy Kirkwood, COO and Chief Evangelist, UiPath
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