Robotic Process Automation

We are all familiar with the stories:

Robot automation will take 800 million jobs by 2030 29 November 2017 BBC

Automation will affect one in five jobs across the UK, says study17 October 2017 The Guardian

Are These Scare Stories or Reality?

Have you considered what happened to the carriage drivers when cars took over from horse-drawn carriages?

Car manufacturers have been using robots on their production lines for many years, as I am sure you are aware.

From my experience posting to your sales ledger to obtain the month end sales figure was a full-time role that took the whole month. These days it is far quicker and more efficient, sometimes taking just hours.

We live in a world of constant change. Process Automation is just another change that we will wonder what all the fuss was about in the future.

What is Process Automation?

Automation is moving the needle of business efficiency and simplifying human lives in general. Organizations that embrace business process automation have cut costs, saved time, and asked their manual workforce to solve more intelligent problems. They let machines do the repetitive tasks, while eliminating the chances of human errors.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. – Institute for Robotic Process Automation

In its most basic form, I liken “robotic process automation” to recording/writing a macro to automate excel processes.  Taking this case means process automation has already been with us for many years.

 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Process Automation

The main advantages of automation are:

  • Increased throughput or productivity
  • Improved quality or increased predictability of quality
  • Improved robustness (consistency), of processes or product
  • Increased consistency of output
  • Reduced direct human labour costs and expenses

 

The main disadvantages of automation are:

  • Security Threats/Vulnerability: An automated system may have a limited level of intelligence, and is therefore more susceptible to committing errors outside of its immediate scope of knowledge
  • Unpredictable/excessive development costs: The research and development cost of automating a process may exceed the cost saved by the automation itself.
  • High initial cost: The automation of a new product or plant typically requires a very large initial investment in comparison with the unit cost of the product, although the cost of automation may be spread among many products and over time.

 

Where Automation works

Automation can save time and money, delight customers who no longer have to wait in line for a person to assist them with a transaction, and preclude human error.

Not every business process is a good fit for automation, so it’s incumbent upon companies to determine which processes are best suited to automation and which ones are best handled by humans.

A lightweight process like travel expense approval or reimbursement approval is a good place to test the impact of automation. As opposed to a mission-critical process. Identify the roadblocks and arrive at the potential solutions to dispense with the problems.

After unveiling the pros and cons of automation, you may gradually automate the mission-critical and customer-centric processes. Look to automate business processes that are time- and resource-intensive operationally, that are subject to human error, and that can be accelerated with automated process improvements achievable through machines and technology. If automating business processes speeds product to market, improves revenue capture, or reduces operating expenses so margins can improve if pricing needs to be kept flat, so much the better.

 

When Automation Is Not A Good Idea

One cardinal rule is to think very carefully before introducing automation to your customer-facing processes.

A customer might appreciate being able to automatically book a hotel or a travel reservation without having to wait to speak with a human agent, but is considerably less appreciative of complicated call attendant automation with multi-layered, drill-down phone trees, and sometimes a phone disconnect at the end of the process. In the customer’s mind, this is the company saying that it does not want to be engaged with unless you are planning to buy something.

automation

Best Practices for Building Automation into Processes

Businesses that are most likely to succeed in their automation efforts rely on three important manual best practices as they build automation into their processes.

1: Define specific automation goals, and measure results on a phased-in approach to adoption

Automation investments can be expensive in both time and money. Unless the investments are well integrated into business processes and can achieve cost reduction, revenue building, safety or other business goals.  They run the risk of being categorized as imprudent expenditures when revisited two or three years later.

Savvy organizations avoid this by carefully reviewing their business goals and processes and then determining what the payback must be for the automation they invest in. The organizations that introduce automation in phases, can measure against the expectation metrics that they have set. If the automation doesn’t meet expectations, they pull the plug with limited investment. This step-by-step approach protects them from the risks of ‘big plunge’ investments that would not work out.

2: Train employees in the automation process

Before banks introduced automated loan underwriting software, loan officers individually reviewed loan applications and determined how much to lend. Although they secured supervisory approvals, the officers’ decision-making on loans wasn’t always uniform, which created risk. When banks introduced automated loan-decisioning software that operated by a uniform set of underwriting rules, employees had to be thoroughly trained into the new business process so they would understand not only the process, but what their revised roles in it would be. This training process didn’t happen overnight, and it required an investment in time and effort, but it enabled banks to reach their goals.

3: Always have a human failover option for all automation

In 2001, the first telesurgery was performed, when doctors in the US removed a gallbladder from a patient in eastern France by remotely operating a surgical robot arm. A human surgeon was standing by in the operating room in France, ready to take over in case the robotic automation failed. The surgery was successful, and the robot performed as expected.

All business processes containing automation should make similar provisions. A human should be able to intercede when needed, so the company can continue to function if automation is disrupted.

 

Begin without best practice and careful consideration, and you are likely to end up with a significant investment of resources and time without a significant return — the business equivalent of a dusty back road in West Texas — wondering what went wrong. 

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automation

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/16/automation-jobs-uk-robots

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-42170100

http://www.zdnet.com/article/business-process-automation-where-it-works-and-where-it-doesnt/

https://www.ft.com/content/916b93fc-8716-11e7-8bb1-5ba57d47eff7

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