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Henry Alty talks to Computer Business Review about Robotic Process Automation

Most jobs today involve a high number of routine and monotonous tasks, such as transferring data from various sources such as email and spreadsheets to an organisation’s CRM and ERP systems. Is Robotic Process Automation the answer?

The impact this has on productivity is illustrated in a report by Capgemini, which stated that “back office workers spend up to 80 percent of their time on repetitive manual tasks, lowering performance and motivation.” Robotic Process Automation (RPA), in which software ‘robots’ interpret and then automate existing work processes, is set to fundamentally change this.

By digitising repetitive rules-based tasks, and removing the need for human intervention, this technological development both speeds up time-consuming tasks and reduces errors. As a result, says Ian Barkin, co-founder of leading RPA consultancy Symphony Ventures, the technology can “unleash staff to focus on the areas of their jobs that really matter and add value elsewhere in the workplace.”

By allowing staff to concentrate on the more interesting aspects of their job such as design, analysis and customer service, RPA can enable businesses to take more creative and innovative approaches to their day-to-day operations. By way of illustration, Barkin cites the example of an HR department that automated the routine logistical elements of its team members’ jobs, allowing them to focus their efforts on improving disability access.

 

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Focusing on the future

Freedom to focus more on the future is likely to have a significant impact throughout an organisation. Not only will RPA free up employees to focus on more innovative tasks, it will also offer clear financial benefits. The reduction in potentially expensive human errors, for example, makes an attractive business proposition, as does the lower cost of purchasing software licences compared to that of employing additional staff.

 

Robotic Process Automation can drive significant cost savings

Efficiency and productivity savings in recent years have largely centred around areas such as shared services, centralisation of work, and low-cost labour, but these savings are now starting to plateau. RPA represents the next evolutionary step in cost savings for businesses, with the additional benefit of being both consistent and auditable.

As an example, UK mobile communications provider Telefónica O2 deployed more than 160 robots to process between 400,000 and 500,000 transactions a month, delivering a return on investment of over 650 percent over three years. With proven ROI of this magnitude, RPA technology will inevitably form part of the broader conversation around the future of the workplace.

 

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Free from constraints

In any conversation around the benefits of using software or robots rather than humans in the workplace, questions will inevitably arise around whether our roles will be diminished or even replaced. Most businesses find, however, that staff are happier when automation is introduced into the workplace, as they are no longer being constrained by dull and repetitive tasks. Embracing the opportunity to take on more interesting work, employees may even see the robots as part of the team.

 

Investor interest

The investor community is taking notice of the current stage of maturity of RPA technology. Start-up RPA vendor UiPath, for example, became a Silicon Valley unicorn in March of this year, seizing the opportunity, along with other high-value RPA software vendors such as Blue Prism.

The rapid growth enjoyed by companies like UiPath and Blue Prism validates RPA as an innovative technology able to transform virtually all industries at scale. What’s more, scalable software businesses such as these are particularly attractive to investors, especially given that the broad application on offer allows for potential clients across all sectors.

The interest from investors lies in more than just the software itself. The benefits of RPA projects are clear, but actually implementing the technology can be complex. As a result, we have seen the growth of specialist RPA consultancy companies such as Symphony Ventures; partners with the necessary experience and focused understanding of how to deploy the most effective RPA tools.

 

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As the demand for implementation continues to grow, and as businesses consider ever more challenging integrations such as combining the technology with intelligent automation and AI, so the interest in RPA implementation partners is set to continue.

There is currently a huge opportunity for RPA businesses that can offer their customers a robust set of tools, as well as integration support and management, to thrive across all sectors. Not only can they help to eliminate the challenges present in legacy business processes and tasks, but they can also support the next generation of digital transformation.

 

This article was originally published in CBR on 29th June 2018.

Opinion