Using software robotics to automate business tasks was, until recently, considered a high level concept beyond the reach of most companies’ IT departments. Walk into the boardroom of modern multinationals and the question around how they can utilise this tech to streamline office tasks is now front of mind for most CTOs.
Henry Alty discusses why this is an industry ripe for investment and how it will fundamentally change workplaces of the future.
Robotics – changing the face of the workplace
Whether you’re an accountant preparing financial reports or an HR Director enrolling a new staff member, most people will recognise that their job contains a range of routine and monotonous tasks.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is the use of software ‘robots’ that can interpret existing work processes and automate them. The software digitises repetitive rules-based tasks, and by removing the need for human intervention speeds up time-consuming activities and reduces errors.
Ian Barkin, co-founder of leading RPA consultancy Symphony Ventures says that the technology can “unleash staff to focus on the areas of their jobs that really matter and add value elsewhere in the workplace.” And because it allows staff to concentrate skills and brain power into areas such as design, analysis and customer service, they can focus on the more interesting areas of their job and businesses can be more innovative and creative. Barkin cites an example of an HR department which, having automated the routine logistical elements of their jobs, could focus their efforts on improving disability access. It isn’t hard to imagine how the freedom to be more future-focused could affect job roles across a business.
As well as freeing up employees to focus on more inventive tasks, there is a clear financial benefit of RPA to businesses. The cost of software licenses compared to additional staff and the reduction of costly admin mistakes made due to human errors, is an attractive proposition for a business. RPA technology is therefore part of a much bigger conversation about the future of work. Efficiency and productivity savings in this space have focused on ideas such as shared services, centralisation of work and low cost labour, but the savings made in these areas are generally plateauing. RPA promises the next evolution of cost savings for businesses, that also have the benefit of being consistent and auditable.
The benefits of using software in contrast to humans naturally leads to questions about the future of the workplace and whether our roles will be diminished when robots are introduced. What most businesses find who introduce some automation is that staff are happier without the constraints of dull tasks, and that by doing so the entire business can become more productive and focus on adding value to their company. Per Vergard Nerseth, head of robotics at ABB, speaking to the Financial Times said, “It’s very difficult to see today that robots are actually taking [jobs] away. I would say we are helping companies to become more competitive and efficient.”
Investors recognise the value of RPA
The current stage of maturity of RPA technology is not going unnoticed by the investor community. In March this year, UiPath, a start-up RPA vendor, became a Silicon Valley unicorn, now worth over $1 billion after raising $153 million of funding. Alongside other RPA software companies such as Blue Prism (with a market cap of over £900m), UiPath has capitalised on this perfect alignment of technology and business readiness.
UiPath has had huge success in driving efficiency, cost reduction and competitiveness into the enterprise, working with over 700 companies, including Huawei and CenturyLink. The company’s CEO and co-founder, Daniel Dines said, “Our idea is to have a robot for every employee, working side by side on the same computer in assisted automation. We see this as a compelling proposition to many of our customers, having both back office and front office [support].” 
The companies’ rapid growth stories legitimises RPA as an innovation capable of transforming virtually all industries at a scale. There is a clear attraction of scalable software businesses which by the broad application on offer has potential clients across all sectors.
Investor interest also goes beyond just the software. Whilst the benefits of RPA projects are clear, implementing the technology is a complex craft and this has led to the growth of specialist RPA consultancy companies, such as Symphony Ventures. These partners have the experience and focused understanding of how to wield the best RPA tools, and with a growing demand for implementation as well as more challenging integrations such as combining them with intelligent automation and AI, the interest in RPA implementation partners is likely to continue.
RPA businesses that can offer their customers a robust set of tools, as well integration support and management for their business customers, have a massive opportunity to flourish across all sectors. They can help companies eliminate the challenges presented in old business processes and tasks and support the next generation of digital transformation along the way.
This article was originally featured on information age on the 17th April 2018.