The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) hype is drawing a lot of attention. One of the first questions I’m asked by those investigating RPA is, “what can I do to improve my chances of success?” While success looks different for each customer, thematically, customers seek improved productivity, strengthened compliance, increased workforce morale, enhanced data quality and reduced transaction costs.
However, even during digital transformation, most businesses are overlooking opportunities to fully streamline their operations. As research by AIIM shows, end-to-end automation is the exception – not the rule. Fewer than one in five organisations have fully automated core back-end processes. Yet thinking small – in terms of task automation, rather than process automation – means companies may be overlooking a chance to gain a competitive advantage.
While many executives understand the value of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate menial tasks, they shy away from automating business processes because they’re considered too complex. A recent Forbes Global Insights survey found that almost a third (32 per cent) of the companies surveyed automate small tasks but still need humans to string the tasks together and check at every stage. Some (31 per cent) are linking several tasks together but require humans to orchestrate the groups of tasks. In addition, AIIM found two-thirds of organisations surveyed say that specific core back-end processes are less than 50 per cent automated.
“When we started, we took as our benchmark some McKinsey Institute research that said close to 50 per cent of today’s menial work can be automated,” said Max Cheprasov, chief automation officer at the U.S. advertising network, Dentsu Aegis. “But based on what I’ve seen across all of the functions and agencies in our network, we’re closer to 75 per cent when it comes to rote tasks.” Cheprasov is looking forward to the automation process. “This will give our people the chance to do less robotic tasks and let us succeed as humans.”
Stop swivelling and close the gaps with RPA
“Expectations feed outcomes – if RPA is viewed as a series of disconnected technical projects, the separate implementers sacrifice opportunities,” says research firm, Everest Group. “They overlook potential to redesign processes to optimise RPA and to design its human workforce so it can best engage with its digital workforce. Carrying out their work in siloed groups, they cannot foresee or manage RPA’s organisational implications.”
The outcome of this viewpoint is “swivel chair automation,” or the act of manually copying and reformatting data between existing systems. Even as companies automate using Business Process Management (BPM) software, they’re still manually executing tasks outside of the process instead of within it. For example, legacy systems still need to be maintained and updated because they’re key systems of records, and this task often falls to human employees.
One way to close such a gap is to complement BPM with RPA. For example, in a complex automated process such as mortgage lending or insurance claims processing, RPA can take over manual tasks such as checking a customer’s identity with various web and internal sources and delivering a report to a human. Using RPA and BPM together gives you the power to ensure that your process is highly automated and well-managed from beginning to the end.
Artificial Intelligence: The missing link
What makes this combination possible is the inclusion of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. With AI technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing and neural networks, RPA systems can learn which data and content are preferred, identify and extract text and data, and make classification decisions. Next-generation RPA tools embed many of these capabilities, including process discovery, analytics and content documentation automation (CDA) for capturing data from unstructured documents. With RPA and AI, the bottlenecks inherent to simple process automation are eliminated.
For companies that want to achieve end-to-end automation and support their digital transformation strategies, it’s clear that point solutions are no longer enough. Instead, they need to harness the power of RPA and other capabilities such as process mining, process orchestration, and BPM or analytics software – to automate entire workflows end-to-end. In doing so, they’ll reduce the need for human intervention along the way. Smart companies need to integrate solutions that were built to work together in a seamless fashion to increase the value of their automation initiatives.
To work like the digitally enabled business of tomorrow, companies need to think big and use IA and RPA to fully automate their operations. And by eliminating the need to manually handle data and simple decisions, they’ll also free up the human workforce to focus on more important work where their knowledge and creativity is most needed. No doubt about it — RPA will drive a cultural evolution. RPA adds a new ‘digital worker’ persona to the workforce. By taking the human element into account throughout the integration of the digital and physical workforce, businesses will increase the probability of success in creating a new total workforce.
Bryant Bell, Director of Product Marketing for RPA, Kofax