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Hybrid RPA 2021: Conversational AI integration into RPA

Robot
(Image credit: Image Credit: Praphan Jampala / Shutterstock)

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is big business with Gartner predicting the market to be worth approaching $2 billion by 2021. However, part of the success of many of the RPA vendors is their ability to understand the need for multiple automation technologies and vendors in order to automate end to end processes and deliver true transformation. Therefore, as businesses face more complex challenges and processes, we will begin to see the evolution of Hybrid RPA deployments - that is the integration of Conversational AI into RPA processes.

RPA has been around for a while, and aims to reduce the time spent on repetitive activities, thus improving productivity. By enabling software bots to perform these mundane and manually intensive tasks, error rates can be reduced and employees are freed up to focus on more creative and intelligent human-aligned tasks within the organization. As a software based solution the benefits and ROI of RPA can be quickly identified, which goes a long way to explaining its success to date and the market predictions going forward.

RPA bots are extremely effective when processing structured data, the sort of information contained within grids, forms and spreadsheets, because the technology largely relies on rules based decision making to perform tasks. This has meant RPA deployments have been largely focused on back office, document and data heavy processes. The next frontier for RPA technology is to move into front office processes and be able to act upon unstructured data, data which is highly unpredictable and created by humans. Conversational AI utilizing both Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) is the gateway to enabling RPA vendors to process this unstructured data and will create a Hybrid approach to technology deployment.

Conversational AI Assistants are typically deployed at the customer and employee interaction level, providing on demand support and information to users across multiple communication channels. This enables organizations to streamline their handling of communications, delivering improved experiences, productivity and once again freeing up knowledge experts to focus on higher value tasks. From inbound customer service and sales enquiries to the automation of internal HR processes. However, the data that is generated is overwhelmingly unstructured and not suited to deep actionable insights for the benefit of RPA.

The potential to be transformative

The utilization of NLP and Machine Learning, combined with broader artificial intelligence approaches means that Conversational AI Assistants are able to structure the unstructured interactions between humans. Crucially, this structured output can then be fed into RPA bots, who can then overlay the processes needed for action.

By combining the ability to ingest unstructured data through the integration of Conversational AI Assistants business can open up new streams of efficiency.  So what does this look like in practice and what will be the first examples of the Hybrid RPA?

For HR teams, Hybrid RPA has the potential to be transformative. Conversational AI Assistants are already busy at work streamlining repetitive employee communications such as holiday requests, onboarding, expenses, recognition and benefits, timesheet management and grievance handling. But as Hybrid RPA emerges, HR teams will be able to automate a far wider spectrum of tasks, not just delivering response and insights, but also triggering actions. For example, A conversational Assistant is able to capture all employee information required to make a travel booking through the natural course of a conversation. The Assistant would then upload the structured output from this conversation to an RPA bot, which would then upload the formatted information to internal systems and trigger an email for a management approval. This not only frees up the HR team and delivers time savings, but also improves compliance across the organization through ensuring all employees follow company policy.

For sales teams the opportunities are vast to gain deeper insight into consumer trends and thoughts. By integrating Conversational AI Assistants with Robotic Process Automation business can go far beyond “where is my order” to a more personalized and sophisticated interaction. We can already see businesses experimenting with Conversational AI Assistants asking customers how they got on with their previous order and highlighting that an immediate duplicate order now would attract a discount - effectively upselling the customer.

The opportunity for agility

Through a combination of Conversational AI and RPA further value could be added to the interaction by enabling customers to make updates to their orders in seconds and even trigger notifications to product design or logistics. Resulting in significantly improved experiences, reputation and greater supply chain efficiency.

The opportunity for businesses to become truly agile for informational retrieval and actionability could be the ultimate real winner. We are all suffering from an information overload, with multiple communications channels, team groups, worksheets and repositories meaning that informed decisions take longer. And as the working environment has changed beyond recognition with more of us remote working, the problem has become even more acute. Conversational AI Assistants combined with RPA enable organizations to access their information and perform critical tasks much more effectively - providing a single touch point for all their processes.

Looking to the future, the move to Hybrid RPA will be driven by GenZ, who are fueling the demand for quicker, better, more accurate communications and interactions Far less suspicious of digital interaction, they in fact demand 24/7 access to information. Whether that be internally within the organization they work for or when interacting with a product or service, they are used to a digital world which is immediately responsive. Organizations which transform digitally, but ignore the requirements of GenZ will struggle to recruit top talent and  keep pace with those that do. 

As we reflect on 2020 and as we take stock of how the world has changed and what we have all done to adapt to it, the overriding theme for the year to come will be how businesses can deploy digital transformation to meet the changing needs of their employees and customers. Understanding the wellbeing of employees will be paramount, predicting customer trends will take center stage and faster access to relevant information will be critical. Hybrid RPA will be part of this journey.

Adam Harrold, CEO, Humley