Robotic process automation (RPA) has been one of the most closely watched areas of enterprise technology in recent years. It introduced the concept of a virtual workforce and has quickly become a new way to define the future structure of business.
IT chiefs gathered in Auckland recently to discuss how
their organisations were using RPA – a type of automation where a computer or
virtual worker mimics the execution of human users’ repetitive activities
without needing intervention or assistance. The luncheon was sponsored by DXC
Rajesh Nair, managing partner, RPA at DXC Technology, says banks and insurance organisations have led the way in the uptake of RPA in Australia and New Zealand with some interest shown from other industries like finance, accounting, and HR functions.
The reason for this, he says, is that everyone wants to try, test and live the experience on processes they can control rather than automating processes linked with end customer experience. There are some cases where customers simply want to reduce their risk rather than take cost out, he says.
RPA technologies have delivered huge returns on
investment for organisations worldwide and are now being viewed as a new,
virtual destination for outsourcing, Nair says.
“Within our own functions where we’ve deployed robots, employees have named the robots and see them as colleagues rather than a threat to their jobs,” says Nair.
“I see a new world where RPA technologies will allow people to actually add value to their daily jobs rather than completing administrative, manual and repetitive tasks which would be completed by their new colleagues – robots. I don’t see it being any different to the way we saw physical robots being introduced in manufacturing. Humans and robots have their own ways of working collectively,” he says.
Nair adds that organisations need to realise that RPA is not a silver bullet or an answer to all problems – rather it’s an enabler to being ‘digital.’
“While RPA has always been associated with the phrase ‘owned by the business and governed by IT’, it is important to note that the role of other functions like compliance and security shouldn’t be overlooked.”
“So RPA is not just software but a capability that needs to be built within an organisation,” he says.
“There is a methodology and framework to success which is slightly more time consuming than the promise of ‘benefits realised’ in four to six weeks, but the pace at which you could scale up is phenomenal provided the right operating model is set up.”
Most of the luncheon attendees had already begun deploying RPA across their organisations with varying levels of success.
David Kennedy, group chief information officer at Transaction Services Group, says the organisation is using RPA technologies in its contact centre and soon across its finance department.
Kennedy says businesses are at the beginning of a digital revolution – enabled by technologies like RPA – and just like the industrial revolution 100 years ago, this is a defining moment for mankind.
“We are going to change the way humans interact with technology forever,” he says. “This is a fantastic time to be involved and I can only see benefit of having these technologies assist in our everyday lives. As with the industrial revolution there will be naysayers, this is typical, but history has proven them to be in the minority.
Tim Chaffe, chief digital architect at the University of Auckland, says the organisation is currently in the process of implementing RPA technologies.
“RPA technologies have already given us alternate options for speeding up processes versus rewriting them,” Chaffe says.
He adds that RPA is complementary to traditional business process service methods such as manual task completion, integration/re-engineering and offshoring.
“It should reduce the need for all three items, potentially removing some of them, but it’s not a silver bullet,” he says.
Kennedy says RPA can be linked to removing commodity operations from the business.
“Once something becomes a commodity it can be ‘RPA’d’ – this is the main difference,” he says.
Kennedy adds that cost efficiencies provided by RPA will enable his organisation to potentially bring offshore resources back home.
“It will certainly provide more financial flexibility to make this choice. However, the onshore skills must be aligned to what we need and that is something that I am doing with the New Zealand government,” he says.
Finally, attendees agreed that ensuring you have the right balance between a human and a virtual workforce is vital.
The University of Auckland already works on the principle of a staff ratio to students, says Chaffe.
“In theory, this will allow us to balance that ratio towards interaction with students instead of back office processing,” he says.
Organisations should attempt to maximise the use of technology with a focus on the redeployment of human resources activities, says Kennedy.
“We need to be mindful that the income of families is our social responsibility and something we need to ensure stays front of mind,” he says.