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Why Britain is already a world leader in automation

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Vasin Lee)

I welcomed the recent research results from the UK government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), asserting that we require a new wave of investment in robotics and automation. However, what the research misses and many others still don’t know is that Britain is already a world leader in automation. We’re not referring to the physical robots that operate in assembly lines on factory floors - but smart ‘software’ robots – namely Digital Workers that automate tasks within an office environment. 

Why this UK innovation is significant

Our Warrington-headquartered company pioneered robotic process automation (RPA) technology, which provides a platform for humans and Digital Workers to collaborate. We’re continually evolving this technology, now termed ‘connected-RPA’, delivers an intelligent Digital Workforce capable of self-learning and continuous improvement, empowering users to automate billions of transactions while returning hundreds of millions of hours of work back into the business — freeing up employees to create, build and share their innovations. What’s even more amazing is connected-RPA is enabling both human and Digital Workers to operate harmoniously together, so we’re effectively creating the workforce of the future —today.

Connected-RPA, gives non-technical business users, who understand their organisation’s operational requirements, the ability to simply create automated processes in a “Visio-like” designer, which are then used by easy-to-control, Digital Workers to manage tasks – using the same applications. Business users can also add “thinking” and analytical capabilities to ensure that Digital Workers more closely replicate human decision making. We’re adding six skill categories to Digital Workers including; knowledge/insight, learning, visual perception, collaboration, planning and sequencing, and problem solving – by augmenting them with cloud, AI, cognitive, and other technologies, sourced from our ‘Digital Exchange’ (DX) marketplace.

For example, sophisticated Digital Workers are starting to make use of natural language processing, intelligent optical character recognition (OCR), communication analytics, process optimisation and machine learning (ML). A large Pharmaceutical company has an automated documentation digitisation and discrepancy checking solution using OCR that alerts teams of any data mismatches or gaps across shipping documents. Another combined Digital Worker and ML program scans for potential compliance risks from conversations with customers.

Connected-RPA is compelling because it’s incredibly quick to deploy, ultra-low cost, at minimal risk – and often delivers ROI’s within the same business quarter. Additionally, Digital Workers offer accuracy and repeatability that no human workforce could ever achieve – and frees employees from boring tasks so they can focus on managing higher value, mission critical activities.

What’s driving adoption

It’s widely acknowledged that the UK economy’s number one problem is productivity — it lags behind many of its main economic competitors – while there’s also a growing, global skills gap too. With many organisations being both resource and budget constrained, has led to the deployment Digital Workers delivering productivity measured in millions of hours of business benefits.

The vast majority of activities, across both private and public sectors — in finance, HR, supply chain logistics, customer service and support, are fabulous targets for automation. With connected-RPA, most organisations are trebling or quadrupling their business capacity and throughput and some organisations are reporting increases of 10x or 12x their original productivity, whilst dramatically reducing their costs.

For example connected-RPA is used to automate processes that include supporting the production of an organisation’s clinical study reports, which reduces human intervention and saves thousands of hours annually. Automations have also been developed globally, across various areas of the business - resulting in tens of thousands of employee hours being transitioned to digital labour, with automations executed with a near 100 per cent success rate. Employee productivity is significantly improved too.

The actual impact of connected-RPA is being seen in many ways - such as not just generating operational efficiencies, incremental cost savings and higher levels of workforce productivity – but delivering better transactional speed and accuracy. In fact, a Knowledge Capital Partners study -  ‘Keys to RPA success’ - reveals that organisations using connected-RPA are experiencing improved service speed, consistency and quality, faster deployment of new services, improved regulatory compliance, differentiated customer experiences, and more flexible, satisfied workforces too.

How we can move forward

Professor Leslie Willcocks, Department of Management London School of Economics and Political Science indicates that research shows organisations are already experiencing skill shortages which are holding back deployment of robotic process and cognitive automation. According to World Economic Forum (2018), retraining people in these technologies, new human-machine roles, and restructured work processes may require 3 months per staff member - over the next 4 years. He believes that we are at the early stage in a massive skills shift over the next 12 years and much more than just new technical skills are required, as demand moves towards medium to high skills that are more digital, cognitive - and distinctively human - as well as technical.

So what are we doing about this challenge? We’ve created a university so anyone, anywhere can learn about what’s driving this seismic change - making our technology available to leading educational institutions in the UK - and around the world. The partnerships that grow from this program will seed the next generation of innovators, disruptors and digital business leaders. It will help meet the growing demand for RPA and cognitive automation skills, and equip future business and IT leaders to capture the benefits of these innovative technologies - for their employees, customers and communities.

We just need the British Government to recognise and support this major, connected- RPA-driven opportunity. Rachel Reeves MP Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee is certainly an advocate and her call to action neatly sums up what needs to be done; “The Government should come forward with a UK Robot and AI Strategy to support businesses and workers as they manage the transition to a more automated world of work. This new Strategy must seek to get the right support in place, on issues such as skills, investment and training, to ensure that all parts of the UK share in the jobs and growth benefits offered by automation.”

The future of work will require the blending of human and digital labour. But far from a bleak, dystopian future where robots replace humans, a Digital Worker will just be another team member – addressing those tasks ill-suited to humans – while helping to boost their strengths. Ultimately, the UK Government must first understand and then embrace this change, so it can play a key role in empowering everyone – at any age – to further drive innovation.

Stephen Tickhill, Head of Public Sector EMEA, Blue Prism

Stephen Tickhill is Head of Public Sector EMEA at Blue Prism and is building a Public Sector team to assist the UK Government with transforming itself and its services.