AUTOMATION - A Panacea to Solve World Hunger?
Sitting in my balcony basking in the early morning sun over the misty skies of India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, I realise that not a day goes by without the rhetoric “more with the same”! All of this without impacting quality. The reflexive reaction of asking for more headcount and increasing seating capacity had long disappeared from the table. Oh! Also, by the way, the bark follows – “No complex Six Sigma processes or multi-year deployment plans for replacing core systems.”
After a stab at a lot of options, we realised that the only way to create a fungible workforce fast enough was to deploy a digital or a hybrid workforce i.e.to deploy robots, which work at a user level mimicking human action. This primarily is what Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is all about and that’s why we explored it. These software robots require minimal technical skills to build and can be quickly deployed to automate the ‘as is’ manual tasks.
RPA is a rapidly evolving market and is considered, at the moment, to be premium priced, given the amount of focus being generated by the industry. Where applied effectively, it introduces significant savings.
RPA is here to stay. Organisations should start planning how to bring this technology in, in a controlled manner. RPA is not just about reducing head count. Many use-cases are exploiting RPA to assist knowledge workers to become more efficient and provide higher value services to customers.
In short, RPA makes our service proposition better for customers, people, organisations and control. Since RPA is an application or software robot that can be configured to perform tasks normally performed by a human - using rule-based processes - the reality is that 70-80 percent of rule-based processes will be automated. Consequently, the jobs in question are high volume, highly repetitive and mundane ones that are better suited for robots, which can work tirelessly and continuously without making errors. Humans will always be necessary to resolve issues, develop and maintain the technology.
It is a myth that RPA will replace humans by automating 100 percent of the processes resulting in massive cost reductions.
A HumBot Organisation
As the name suggests, a “humbot” organisation is one that has a good mix of humans and bots, with both complementing one another: as software robots handle the more repetitive, tedious jobs in a business, employees can participate in more value added activities that involve personal interaction, problem solving and decision making.
Automate the part of a process that has the highest volume. Digitize or standardize data inputs before automating the process; capture all input data up front. Creation of multiple bots is a better approach to automate complex processes. Employ both top-down (to create initial buzz) and bottom-up (to create ground swell) approaches for identifying appropriate processes and automating them. Automate simple processes with high volumes and minimum risk followed by automation of complex processes.
We currently run 1500 bots out of 17 countries in areas such as Finance, Human Resources, Payments, Trade, Mortgages, Reconciliations, Anti Money Laundering, Sanctions and the list goes on!
A program of this scale needs a mechanism to ensure that the bots are well mannered and are behaving the way they were designed to. A water tight governance model and a standard operating procedure should be put in place to ensure that an organisation is moving in the direction intended without any reputational or financial impact.
Some of the challenges one might face while embarking on the Automation trail are technological constraints, environment, the fact that technology is susceptible to changes, people’s resistance to change and high expectations from robots.
While people resist the change in the beginning, gradually they start to see how it works for them when they move up to quality jobs involving either analysis or judgement.
Despite the obstacles, the financial benefits of deploying automation are quite amazing. From the low-hanging fruit, one can harvest a benefit of 15-20 percent. The next step is to identify the force multipliers like cognitive capabilities to take processing to the next level. I visualize a future where humans will supervise thousands of bots catering to millions of requests from billions of connected devices - the perfect partner for enabling the Internet of Things.