Published on in Financial ServicesInnovation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is something that’s been hovering on the horizon for a while. It’s something we’re talking about more and more – if you don’t know much about it, why not, take a look at this infographic).

Those organisations that have deployed RPA have quickly realised what it is good at: repetitive, high volume, process-driven tasks, like inputting new customer details to lots of different systems (customer on-boarding) and creating compliance reports.

Many of the advantages of RPA readily present themselves.  It can work 24/7; it eliminates human error and therefore improves accuracy; it’s fast.

Plus there is the added advantage that you don’t have to implement a whole new IT system to utilise RPA – it will work with what you’ve already got.

And as much as RPA is a big talking point it’s also something that we’re using. By 2020 it’s expected that 64% of management and financial business tasks will utilise RPA.

RPA is becoming main-stream – and this is a good thing.

It’s a tool that will liberate employees from the mundane and repetitive tasks that they don’t like doing.

Instead, they will be able to spend more time strategizing and creating – the kind of work that they do enjoy.

This will be far better for career satisfaction and staff retention in the long run.

RPA helps people to be human

Whilst RPA is good for employees, it is equally good for businesses.

In giving people more time, it allows front line staff to focus on the human aspects of interactions – which is great for customer service. This huge benefit of RPA is often overlooked.

For example, RPA is often used to support contact call centres – where people are employed to listen to and empathise with the customer.

The real benefit of RPA here is that it can provide the contact centre staff with all of the information they need to support their customer interactions.

It can give them the information in the best way – in one place that is easy to use, and not on five different systems across ten different screens.

It also enables them to be as informed and helpful as possible when engaging with the customer by giving them time to think about the customer’s problem.

All of the legwork is being done for them by the RPA. They just have to do the human bit.

We know that a good personal interaction with a staff member will result in customers leaving with a positive view of the organization.

And in a world where everything is a commodity, excellent customer service is a key differentiator that will decide a company’s success.

So RPA will let the people do what they are good at – which also tends to be what they enjoy. It’s advantageous all-round.

Lay the groundwork for RPA

RPA is here, and it’s changing the way we work for the better. You knew this already.

But you probably didn’t know what lies behind RPA – that is, the work that reinforces it.

Before a business can bring in RPA it has to decide exactly where it will fit. This requires a precise understanding of all the current processes in a business – which, realistically, nobody has, since most of these processes aren’t planned and instead just evolve over time.

Can you, for instance, show me a process map of every single job you do at work from Monday to Friday?

Of course not! Work is busy and ever-changing and people take on tasks depending on their availability and expertise. Roles develop organically and the work structure is not set in stone (if it’s clearly set out at all).

For this reason, the difficult part of RPA is getting a sense of where you want to automate.

In many ways, I think it’s harder than the process of actually implementing the RPA. It certainly isn’t the most obvious part of the job – although it might be the most interesting.

Taking care of RPA

Something else that you probably don’t know about RPA: it has to be looked after.

Machines do not cope well with change. They need to be constantly tuned to ensure the most effective and efficient use.

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet arrived at the stage where you can just deploy RPA and leave it to run.

Just as you need excellent line managers to get the best from teams, you need the equivalent management for RPA. When there is a change in the situation or the work that you want to automate, the RPA has to be re-coded.

It’s another hidden (difficult) part of the automation process, which is nonetheless really interesting.

RPA is only the beginning

But it’s also interesting to think about what’s beyond RPA.

The robotic stage of automation that we now find ourselves in is just one phase in a long process.

It was preceded by screen-scraping, when software captured data – essentially by taking a picture of it – and then put it into a system (if you’re interested in finding out how old RPA really is, read this great article).

Now RPA is all about taking a process map and teaching a computer programme to work with it (essentially taking the data and using it to do something valuable).

And artificial intelligence will not just be using the process map but will also be generating it for itself.

Unlike RPA it will not need human intervention to teach it how to use the process map – it will learn how to do this by itself, refining and improving the whole system as it goes along.

This is the next step in the story of RPA. And it’s this part that I think is the most exciting: the bit beyond the obvious.

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