U.S. companies eager to implement robotic process automation — software that automates how humans interact with software — are often fixated on seeing a proof of concept, said RPA technology expert David Brain. And that’s not good.
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“I feel bad going to clients and proving what’s been proven several times over,” Brain said. People will automate a simple process that might require one employee and half a spreadsheet and declare success.
“‘Yes, we’ve proved the concept!’ But all they’ve proved is that the technology works. What they haven’t proved is whether there is a business case for automation and will it deliver the scale of improvements the company wants to achieve,” he said. Rather than a POC, companies should insist on POV — proof of value — before embarking on RPA. “That’s the bigger challenge.”
Brain is co-founder and COO of Symphony Ventures Ltd., a consulting, implementation and managed services firm specializing in what the firm dubs “future of work technologies”– RPA technology among them. Founded three years ago, the firm has worked on RPA projects across a broad range of industries and geographies. “We’ve done deployments in five continents so far,” he said.
All work is local
The firm’s projects have also covered a diverse set of business processes. That’s because RPA is not a “process-specific solution,” Brain stressed, but rather the automation of rules-based, manual work not covered by a company’s process-specific technology systems. And that work necessarily varies from company to company.
“You can have five organizations and they each could be running the same ERP system, but the way in which these systems are configured depends on the particular company’s rules and that means there is different work that falls out manually,” Brain said.
At some companies, Symphony experts are called upon to automate the current manual process, using RPA technology to automate the work the same way employees do it. Other companies will want help on optimizing the process first before automating it.
“It really depends on what is driving the business decision,” Brain said. The nature of the work Symphony automates is always rules-based, but those rules can be extremely complex. (The firm has done projects in which it’s taken several months to capture and learn the processes that are eventually automated.)
Proof of value: Five steps
But, whether the RPA work is of the “lift-automate-shift” or “lift-shift-automate” variety, or involves simple or complex rules, companies need to follow certain steps in order to get a “proof of value.” Here is a synopsis of Brain’s five steps for deploying RPA technology
1.Scope the transformation
“RPA is a transformational tool, not a desktop macro builder. Look for pain points within the organization and identify what needs to change. This isn’t just a cost play; rather, it has to do with mitigating the challenges of growing in a linear fashion by increasing the number of full-time employees. For some, it is about improving speed and quality to differentiate in the market. Others are attracted by the insight and analytics that come from consolidating all transactional data into one database for real-time visibility.”
2.Capture, map, measure
“The next step is to analyze the business and map processes at keystroke level. To do so, use experts in RPA, as it is important to drill into the areas where configuration will be complex. Standard operating procedures, training materials and system manuals will be great inputs, but not enough by themselves. Have the RPA experts sit with the process experts to map what really happens; afterwards, it will be easier to plot costs and service levels to the processes as a baseline.”
3.Analyze and design
“With the scope defined and mapped, identify processes and parts of processes most suitable for automation. Then calculate the time and cost to implement these, as well as the benefits of doing so. Design a target operating model (TOM), which is a graphical depiction of the business structure and processes affected by the RPA implementation; it should detail everything from stakeholders to the applications/systems used by the automation. It’s important to map not just the RPA portions but also the scope of the business to determine how to redeploy resources to drive greater business value.”
4.Plan and forecast the journey
“Consider all that is involved in the transformation and don’t underestimate the time required for change management and benefits realization. Create the implementation plan and financial model by looking at the savings and the cost avoidance that this transformation will bring over an estimated three years. Consider the cost of not only implementing RPA but maintaining the solution and updating it to take on additional tasks as needed.”
“Use the business case, TOM and strategy to get support for prioritizing this transformation. The business case will justify that, usually predicting ROIs of 300% or more.”
Early experiments with robotic process automation are successfully cutting costs and achieving fast ROI. That will lead to a boom in full-scale deployments. Download a free Everest Group report to learn more.
Robotic process automation (RPA) technology typically uses artificial intelligence to handle repetitive, rules-based, back-office tasks. And the market is about to experience a period of “explosive” growth, according to an Everest Group study.
The RPA market grew 64 percent to $200 million last year and is expected to grow 70 to 90 percent by 2018 because successful pilot projects are inspiring buyer confidence in the technology, the consulting and research firm reports.
Why are RPA pilot projects successful? The Everest Group report says RPA projects save money, recoup the investment in just six to nine months, and don’t require major IT architecture changes or deep integration with underlying systems.
However, there are some barriers to adoption, such as IT departments concerned about data security and loss of control. Plus, “replacing staff with robots in some sectors, such as government, could become a political minefield,” the report says.
The 25-page report also covers the following topics:
The business case for RPA
Key lessons learned by early adopters
International trends in RPA adoption
The RPA vendor landscape
Predictions for 2017-2019
Register now to download the complimentary Everest Group report: “Robotic Process Automation: State of the Market”
Even if we are not always aware of it, artificial intelligence is already a big part of our lives, having a major impact on how we live and how we work. From customer service applications to voice-powered assistants such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, there are several examples of AI and automation tools in use today.
As technological advancements continue, AI’s role in our lives will only grow bigger. There are even concerns that AI will soon make most human-filled jobs obsolete and ultimately leave millions unemployed. And according to the National Science and Technology Council’s Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, these concerns are not entirely unfounded. In a report put together for the previous U.S. administration, the subcommittee suggests that up to 47% of jobs risk becoming irrelevant because of technological advancement and that 83% of jobs that pay under $20 an hour will most likely be automated within the next few years.
Whether that prediction comes true or not, the fact remains that widespread AI adoption can have multiple benefits for a business and its employees, such as higher quality work, improved reliability, increased and consistent output. Automation of routine tasks can actually help workers spend more time on creative tasks that provide enhanced value to the company and its customers. Below, 15 Forbes Agency Council members discuss ways in which artificial intelligence and automation can actually help workers become better at their jobs in the next few years.
All photos courtesy of Forbes Agency Council members.
Artificial intelligence is going to continuing changing agency professionals’ daily workflow.
1. Give Deeper Insights
Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will transform the job of PR professionals. Tasks such as news monitoring, researching, reporting and building media lists will no longer need to be done manually. AI and predictive analytics will give PR professionals deeper insights into market trends and movements. The combination will help free up mind space so PR can think more strategically, creatively and high-level. – Chi Zhao, Hokku PR
2. Replace Day-To-Day Low-Level Cognitive Tasks
AI, automation and machine learning will impact day-to-day tasks considerably in the next five years. The main focus will be on low-level cognitive tasks: scheduling calendar invites, routinely ordering food, determining emails to answer/review/delete based on facts. They’ll also be working their way into aiding high-level cognitive tasks: identifying connections, analyzing correlation and assessing conclusions. – Alan Morte, Three Ventures Technology, Inc.
3. Act As Life’s Concierge Service
With the popularity of Alexa, Watson and Einstein, consumer expectation will soon be for tech to act as concierge. Big Data companies now anticipate general real-time needs and provide info (weather, traffic, etc.) but AI’s evolution post-purchase to provide highly personalized info means it will soon anticipate my daily individual needs to recommend when, where, and how I accomplish my tasks. – Elizabeth Poston, Helios Interactive
4. Make Marketing Less Artificial And More Intelligent
AI will enable companies to develop even deeper relationships with people. Cognitive technology, such as IMB’s Watson, enable us to analyze data like unstructured text, audio, images and video. Sensing and processing personality, tone and emotion will help us make even greater personalized recommendations and help companies engage in conversations through chatbots. – Debbie Williams, SPROUT Content
5. Automate Customer Support
Using chatbots for automated customer support will save a lot of time. Chatbots that are available 24/7 for customers and can automatically answer your questions, provide recommendations, or direct you to the next step in your workflow can take a lot of weight off your customer support system. Furthermore, bots can gather intelligence on customer needs, engagements and emotions. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
6. Put Great Minds To Good Use
We often find ourselves and our staff stuck doing mundane tasks. This realistically holds us and our teams back from unleashing our problem-solving skills and our creativity. Jumping on AI and workflow automation will help us clear our plates of tasks including sorting, organizing, responding, or reporting, and will leave us and our teams more time to be productive. – Ahmad Kareh, Twistlab Marketing
7. Edit Video Content On The Fly
AI will eventually edit content that we produce in real time, developing an infinite number of variations instantaneously once published. Shots will be switched out, music and sound effects will change on the fly, all dictated by real-time user engagement and personal characteristics of the viewer. We’re already creating multiple versions of each video we create – it’s time a robot does it for us! – Chris Carter, Rep Interactive
8. Create Jobs And Integrate Human Workflows Together
Artificial intelligence in the workplace will break apart established workflows, which in return will create jobs to help integrate the workflows together. The structure of the workplace will continue to change due to AI and automation. However, humans will play an integral role in making sure these worlds combine efficiently and effectively. – Ryan Pezzotti, Knowzo.com
9. Free Up Time For Strategy And Storytelling
In the ad operations space, automation and programmatic platforms have grown over the past few years. This has reduced the tactical need to spend time on the nuts-and-bolts, managing every last technical detail. This will allow agencies to focus on high-value strategic work, especially creative audience targeting, analysis and storytelling. – Dan Golden, Be Found Online
10. Inform Future Strategies
While humans will always be needed in the PR industry as relationship building is an essential component, the data that our teams can collect through AI will help to inform future strategies. This intelligence will be especially beneficial when it comes to media monitoring and ensuring that we’re able to stay abreast of competitor news and coverage. – Jennifer Hawkins, HAWKINS International Public Relations Inc.
11. Condense 40 Hours of Analysis In Four Minutes
Manual analysis of marketing efforts is time-consuming. The future of marketing efficiency is condensing tasks that normally take 40 hours into four-minute report runs. One example? Creating a social media strategy. Instead of analyzing all of the status updates that have been posted and categorizing them into a strategy, future automation tools will be able to better direct marketing efforts. – Brett Farmiloe, Markitors
12. Keep Us Productive During The Commute
By far the most exciting application of AI and machine learning is automated driving. Being a Tesla P90D owner, I understand the value of autopilot, especially in terms of reduced driver fatigue on long trips. However, I’m most excited by the idea of fully autonomous driving, which I suspect will have a dramatic impact on productivity during one’s commute to and from work. – Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com
AI can help us craft customized experiences in real time to increase engagement with brands. We recently created an experience for an industry event that allowed passers-by to interact with and affect a change within a branded environment. Once inside, consumers answered five simple questions and we created custom content based on their answers. The engagement level was off the charts. – Chris Cavanaugh, Freeman
14. Make Routine Processes Easier
Automation, whether in a manufacturing facility or a programmatic advertising platform, exists to make routine processes easier. Advanced technologies such as AI just extend what can conceivably be automated. As an entrepreneur, I look at AI as the ultimate efficiency driver. It enables me to put the day-to-day in digital hands, freeing mine and making each day more productive. – Julien Verdier, Adyoulike
15. Give A Competitive Edge
AI implementation will allow us to simplify multi-faceted processes by replacing the manual process of sorting and identifying complex data, key insights and actionable plans. We can create strategies to help our clients gain a competitive edge over competitors by having better decision-making, improved ROI, operational efficiency and cost savings. – Revecka Jallad, Divisa
As part of techUK’s AI Week, Alastair Bathgate, Group CEO at Blue Prism has provided a blog on ‘Friend not Foe: Robotic workforces could boost – not break – our working world’
Pressure is mounting on us, wherever we work to outperform peers, fend off threats from new challengers and remain competitive. That’s modern life – but each of us is only human. We can’t do everything at once. Some things we just don’t want to do, maybe even ought not to do. In any event, every now and then something’s got to give.
In the past 20 years, Business Process Outsourcing cast itself as the saviour of productivity – sometimes even of corporate sanity. Companies large and small took a long hard look at themselves, at the places where they added value (and where they leaked it) and looked to outside talent to work harder, smarter, faster.
Today, that outside talent alone isn’t enough. The future of work is changing at a faster pace than any of us have ever known. Virtually every company on earth is now looking at ‘what’s next’ – and increasingly that’s software robots.
Robots attract a great deal of emotion. We imagine sci-fi figures from TV and film. We fear replacement, not emancipation, from machines much better at work than we are. But, just like the fears that accompanied BPO in its infancy, the truth and potential around software robotics is far more exciting than this imagery allows.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the game-changer. We’ve all seen industrial robots make waves in manufacturing, deliver efficiency in supply chains and improve product quality. We are now seeing software robots do the same elsewhere.
Software robots put process where process belongs, inside smart systems. They free each of us up to apply our human brains to tasks far more valuable. Let’s face it: traditional IT systems can often creak under the simplest of pressures. There are gaps, flaws, missing links – and all too often human intervention isn’t the best way to mitigate for those failings.
Smart software robots are far better suited to the task. Rather than have employees stretch time and resource to marginally improve an already broken system, what if you could simply add extra robotic capacity to do all that for you? Robots that feed on process, scalability and compliance.
But that’s just the beginning. Imagine a robotic ecosystem where users can leverage best-of-breed solutions for AI, cognitive and cloud technology. Consider the benefits to an a la carte menu of services and capabilities that would let you free up the creativity of people to do more valuable tasks: seek out that new market, revitalize sales, spot new opportunity and double output with virtually zero cost.
Doesn’t this sound like good news for business, not bad? Couldn’t it be good news for productivity, for people and for process? We think so. Increasingly the biggest players in business think so too. Perhaps it’s time we put sci-fi to one side and gave robotics a fresh look…?
Every few months it seems another study warns that a big slice of the workforce is about to lose their jobs because of artificial intelligence. Four years ago, an Oxford University study predicted 47% of jobs could be automated by 2033. Even the near-term outlook has been quite negative: A 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said 9% of jobs in the 21 countries that make up its membership could be automated. And in January 2017, McKinsey’s research arm estimated AI-driven job losses at 5%. My own firm released a survey recently of 835 large companies (with an average revenue of $20 billion) that predicts a net job loss of between 4% and 7% in key business functions by the year 2020 due to AI.
Yet our research also found that, in the shorter term, these fears may be overblown. The companies we surveyed – in 13 manufacturing and service industries in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America – are using AI much more frequently in computer-to-computer activities and much less often to automate human activities. “Machine-to-machine” transactions are the low-hanging fruit of AI, not people-displacement.
For example, our survey, which asked managers of 13 functions, from sales and marketing to procurement and finance, to indicate whether their departments were using AI in 63 core areas, found AI was used most frequently in detecting and fending off computer security intrusions in the IT department. This task was mentioned by 44% of our respondents. Yet even in this case, we doubt AI is automating the jobs of IT security people out of existence. In fact, we find it’s helping such often severely overloaded IT professionals deal with geometrically increasing hacking attempts. AI is making IT security professionals more valuable to their employers, not less.
In fact, although we saw examples of companies using AI in computer-to-computer transactions such as in recommendation engines that suggest what a customer should buy next or when conducting online securities trading and media buying, we saw that IT was one of the largest adopters of AI. And it wasn’t just to detect a hacker’s moves in the data center. IT was using AI to resolve employees’ tech support problems, automate the work of putting new systems or enhancements into production, and make sure employees used technology from approved vendors. Between 34% and 44% of global companies surveyed are using AI in in their IT departments in these four ways, monitoring huge volumes of machine-to-machine activities.
In stark contrast, very few of the companies we surveyed were using AI to eliminate jobs altogether. For example, only 2% are using artificial intelligence to monitor internal legal compliance, and only 3% to detect procurement fraud (e.g., bribes and kickbacks).
What about the automation of the production line? Whether assembling automobiles or insurance policies, only 7% of manufacturing and service companies are using AI to automate production activities. Similarly, only 8% are using AI to allocate budgets across the company. Just 6% are using AI in pricing.
Where to Find the Low-Hanging Fruit
So where should your company look to find such low-hanging fruit – applications of AI that won’t kill jobs yet could bestow big benefits? From our survey and best-practice research on companies that have already generated significant returns on their AI investments, we identified three patterns that separate the best from the rest when it comes to AI. All three are about using AI first to improve computer-to-computer (or machine-to-machine) activities before using it to eliminate jobs:
Put AI to work on activities that have an immediate impact on revenue and cost. When Joseph Sirosh joined Amazon.com in 2004, he began seeing the value of AI to reduce fraud, bad debt, and the number of customers who didn’t get their goods and suppliers who didn’t get their money. By the time he left Amazon in 2013, his group had grown from 35 to more than 1,000 people who used machine learning to make Amazon more operationally efficient and effective. Over the same time period, the company saw a 10-fold increase in revenue.
After joining Microsoft Corporation in 2013 as corporate vice president of the Data Group, Sirosh led the charge in using AI in the company’s database, big data, and machine learning offerings. AI wasn’t new at Microsoft. For example, the company had brought in a data scientist in 2008 to develop machine learning tools that would improve its search engine, Bing, in a market dominated by Google. Since then, AI has helped Bing more than double its share of the search engine market (to 20%); as of 2015, Bing generated more than a $1 billion in revenue every quarter. (That was the year Bing became a profitable business for Microsoft.) Microsoft’s use of AI now extends far beyond that, including to its Azure cloud computing service, which puts the company’s AI tools in the hands of Azure customers. (Disclosure: Microsoft is a TCS client.)
Look for opportunities in which AI could help you produce more products with the same number of people you have today. The AI experience of the 170-year-old news service Associated Press is a great case in point. AP found in 2013 a literally insatiable demand for quarterly earnings stories, but their staff of 65 business reporters could write only 6% of the earnings stories possible, given America’s 5,300 publicly held companies. The earnings news of many small companies thus went unreported on AP’s wire services (other than the automatically published tabular data). So that year, AP began working with an AI firm to train software to automatically write short earnings news stories. By 2015, AP’s AI system was writing 3,700 quarterly earnings stories – 12 times the number written by its business reporters. This is a machine-to-machine application of AI. The AI software is one machine; the other is the digital data feed that AP gets from a financial information provider (Zacks Investment Research). No AP business journalist lost a job. In fact, AI has freed up the staff to write more in-depth stories on business trends.
Start in the back office, not the front office. You might think companies will get the greatest returns on AI in business functions that touch customers every day (like marketing, sales, and service) or by embedding it in the products they sell to customers (e.g., the self-driving car, the self-cleaning barbeque grill, the self-replenishing refrigerator, etc.). Our research says otherwise. We asked survey participants to estimate their returns on AI in revenue and cost improvements, and then we compared the survey answers of the companies with the greatest improvements (call them “AI leaders”) to the answers of companies with the smallest improvements (“AI followers”). Some 51% of our AI leaders predicted that by 2020 AI will have its biggest internal impact on their back-office functions of IT and finance/accounting; only 34% of AI followers said the same thing. Conversely, 43% of AI followers said AI’s impact would be greatest in the front-office areas of marketing, sales, and services, yet only 26% of the AI leaders felt it would be there. We believe the leaders have the right idea: Focus your AI initiatives in the back-office, particularly where there are lots of computer-to-computer interactions in IT and finance/accounting.
Computers today are far better at managing other computers and, in general, inanimate objects or digital information than they are at managing human interactions. When companies use AI in this sphere, they don’t have to eliminate jobs. Yet the job-destroying applications of AI are what command the headlines: driverless cars and trucks, robotic restaurant order-takers and food preparers, and more.
Make no mistake: Automation and artificial intelligence will eliminate some jobs. Chatbots for customer service have proliferated; robots on the factory floor are real. But we believe companies would be wise to use AI first where their computers already interact. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit there to keep them busy for years.
With robotics making great strides and more companies welcoming robots into the workforce, IT managers need to start prepping for the changes coming their way.
“Robotics will probably touch every business over the next decade,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with OrionX. “I think we’re nearing a tipping point where more businesses will be adding robots and robotics to their operations. They’ll be doing everything from manufacturing, to delivering food to restaurant tables to cleaning chores and farming — and lots of stuff in between.”
While robots have been working on assembly lines and in giant warehouses for some time, they’ve become much more than giant hulking arms moving car doors and stacking boxes. With advances in technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision and mobility, robots are taking on a host of new roles.
Late last summer, for instance, Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, announced plans to use customer-service robots in 11 stores in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Aloft hotel in Cupertino, Calif. is already using a robot butler to autonomously deliver snacks and small items to guests in their rooms.
And two delivery companies — Postmates and DoorDash — will use fleets of autonomous robots to bring orders directly to customers’ front doors. That means the robots will navigate through cities and on crowded sidewalks in Washington, D.C. and Silicon Valley.
“Over the last decade, robotics has started in industry after industry and that will continue to advance during the next 10 years,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. “Robotics will play a growing role in a number of businesses, from making cars to taking orders at McDonalds. Not only will more companies move into robotics, but robotics will do more as it gets more intelligent with A.I., the internet of things and the cloud.”
The trend means that CIOs and IT managers need to be prepared for an influx of robotics because introducing this technology isn’t as simple as firing up a fleet of humanoid robots and letting them loose in an office building. It’s going to take planning, new skills and thought about how robots will affect employees and require new infrastructure.
This is not going to be IT as usual.
“It’s very much a different mindset than traditional IT,” said Mike Gennert, a professor and director of the Robotics Engineering Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, Mass. “IT managers worry about how they manage information, how it’s used, how it’s stored and secured. But none of that has the ability to directly affect the physical world. Robots affect the real world. That brings issues IT managers have not had to confront.”
For instance, It’s bad enough if a company computer is hacked and it becomes part of a zombie botnet. But what if someone hijacks a company robot and makes it do things, harmful things, in the real world?
Here are a few things CIOs and IT managers should start to think about and prepare for:
It’s time to bring in new skills
Some large companies will need to consider hiring a CRO — a Chief Robotics Officer — to go along with their CIO and CTO. A CRO would be responsible for the company’s robotics strategy and how it’s integrated into the processes already in place.
“I think the need is already starting to show up,” said Gennert. “For somebody who’s in the fast food industry, you’ll want to know how robotics can be used in your plants [for] packaging foods and moving foods, and on-site in point-of-sales and logistically and cleaning up afterwards.”
However, hiring a CRO isn’t the only position IT managers will need to fill. They’ll also need to bring in IT workers with a background in robotics — people who understand computer vision, sensors, programming models and security models, and who can do more than basic repairs and maintain robotic code.
Companies will also need someone experienced in A.I., since it will be the smarts in autonomous machines.
“Applications of machine learning in robotics is on the rise,” said Taskin Padir, an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University, in Boston. “Each practical robot system will rely on some level of A.I. to become more adaptable to situations that cannot be foreseen by the robot’s programmers.”
And time to upgrade your own skills
While IT managers are looking to hire new employees, they should consider bolstering their own skill set so they understand enough about robotics to get them up and running.
“IT managers will need to become intimately familiar with their new robot charges,” said Olds. “I think the robot vendors will provide a lot of this training, which will make it easier for IT personnel to quickly come up to speed.”
However, Gennert thinks IT managers will need a deeper knowledge than they can get from a few tutorials.
“I think IT managers need enough of an understanding to get what the changes will be and what the new needs will be,” he said. “They’ll surely want to have more expertise on some bigger skills, like manipulation, perception and vision, navigation and locomotion. You’ll need more expertise than you’d get from a few webinars or short courses.”
One robot will not replace one human
While there are a variety of estimates and a lot of fears floating around about how many jobs robots might take in the next five to 10 years, it’s hard to calculate how bringing robots into the workplace will affect employee numbers.
“Don’t think of robots as a one-to-one replacement for employees,” said Olds. “Trying to ‘roboticize’ all the tasks an employee does is extremely difficult. I don’t think robots will be taking over everyone’s job.”
While some workers will be displaced, the majority will carry on as before. Some employees may have more mundane, physically demanding or dangerous tasks taken over by robotic counterparts.
Artur Dubrawski, director of the Auton Lab and senior faculty in the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, used to be the CTO at Aethon, a Pittsburgh-based robotics company. Aethon makes the Tug robot, which is often used to make deliveries in hospitals, pulling carts carrying everything from linens to medicines and food.
Through the deployments he worked on while at Aethon, he did not see robots replacing human workers, but helping them.
“There’s concern about robotics eliminating jobs, but in my practice that wasn’t the case,” Dubrawski said. “In the hospitals I watched through our deployments, nobody who worked in delivery lost their jobs. The efficiency increased. The quality of those employees’ lives picked up.”
At one hospital that was using a Tug robot, an employee told Dubrawski that his knees had always hurt him when he was pushing the cart to make deliveries. With the robot, however, he began focusing on making sure the carts had the right supplies and then pushing a button on a touch-screen to have the robot take it to make the delivery.
The worker’s knees didn’t hurt anymore.
Think about human/robot interactions
While working with a robot helped that hospital employee, other people may be anxious about working with a robot — particularly an autonomous one. The image that often comes to mind: Out-of-control, malevolent robots like the ones on Battlestar Galactica or The Terminator.
Add to that the fear of a robot accidentally hurting someone or taking their job, and employee concerns about their new, non-human co-workers could quickly arise.
It’s going to be up to the company, and likely the IT department, to work with employees, train them and put them at ease with robots.
“Having people who are willing to work with the robots is important,” said Gennert. “The fact that so many young employees today are already digital natives and feel very comfortable with computers means those folks will be pretty eager adopters of technology. And if people see how it helps them in their jobs, they’ll be more happy to have the robots come along.”
Olds noted that part of the job for IT — and anyone introducing robots into the enterprise — will be to make it clear to employees what’s happening. Are the robots replacing workers? Are the robots aimed at making some jobs easier?
“It’s important that employees get comfortable with the new tools and management needs to foster that sort of cooperation,” said Olds. “There will certainly be some people displaced by robots, which will cause them to resent them. But this won’t be the majority of workers. The majority of workers will carry on as before, but will probably find their jobs become more interesting and less wearing on them with the addition of their robot helpmates.”
IT managers will need to assess their infrastructure to figure out what they need to not only run robots but to have them safely and efficiently connect with other aspects of the corporate network, take orders from people in different departments, have them download information, track them throughout the property and even help robots deal with things like automatic doors and elevators.
“We are still in the early stage of utilizing robotics and A.I. in enterprise IT,” said Andy Chang, a spokesman for KUKA, a German-based robot manufacturer. “It is extremely important to make sure that you have a good infrastructure foundation to scale for the next 10 years.”
According to Chang, companies tend to utilize proprietary communication protocols, which can make extracting machine information difficult. “Existing networks can scale in the short term, but be ready to invest in new technologies such as 5G or Li-Fi as they become commercially available,” he added. “It will be critically important.”
Dubrawski added that it’s also a matter of thinking about how robots will need to communicate with the physical world, as well as with other company computers.
“As an IT manager, you need to have the robot access the networking system in your [company]…and communicate with each other and be able to convey their whereabouts to whoever sends them on a delivery trip, as well as to those who are waiting for them. We want to know where they are and if they get into trouble, and how to deal with them remotely if they get stuck. You need to be able to resolve navigational challenges, or if it might be cornered by a bunch of kids.”
New research analyzes automation’s impact on the IT outsourcing market, revealing double-digit productivity improvements and specific cost reductions between 14 percent and 28 percent.
Outsourcing consultancy and research firm Information Services Group (ISG) this week unveiled a new research report to quantify the cost savings and productivity gains from automating IT services.
The inaugural Automation Index shows improvements in productivity fueled by automation can more than double the cost savings typically derived from outsourcing IT. Total cost reduction ranged from 26 percent to 66 percent, depending on the service tower, with 14 to 28 percentage points of these savings directly attributable to automation, according to ISG. (The typical cost savings from labor arbitrage and process improvements alone range from 20 percent to 30 percent).
The report is based on cost and labor data from ISG’s database covering outsourcing agreements with an annual contract value of $10 million or more in which service automation is a core component. The index is one of the first to quantify the impact of automation on IT services. Automation-related technologies and platforms improve the productivity of employees by enabling them to do more with less and prevent problems before they arise, translating into lower costs for buyers by not only reducing the number of provider employees needed to perform the work but also by reducing the amount of work that needs to be performed.
The result, says Steve Hall, partner with ISG Digital Services, is a buyer’s market that’s putting tremendous pressure on services providers to deliver more and more savings to stay competitive. “As automation moves up the IT process value chain and into business processes, it will eliminate a significant amount of work through problem avoidance and self-healing, and with it, a significant amount of the headcount needed to deliver large-scale ITO services,” Hall said in a statement accompanying the report.
Where automation has the biggest impact
Automation is having the biggest impact on areas in which employees manage physical devices, such as network services. Most IT towers see an average 25 percent decrease in the number of resources required as a result of automation, but certain IT services experience a 50 percent headcount reduction, according to ISG. ISG found that network and voice costs are declining by 66 percent mostly due to the convergence of voice, video and data solutions built on highly standardized and virtualized capabilities, an environment ripe for leveraging automation. Service desk and end user support costs declined by 26 percent due to increased adoption of self help and remote support, the introduction of self-healing functionality, and significant automation of level one and two incidents.
Most of today’s automation is focused on computerizing repetitive tasks based on standard operating procedures but more complex automation is beginning to emerge that takes advantage of more advanced data mining and machine learning capabilities, says Stanton Jones, ISG director of research. That higher-order automation can make operational decisions with no human involvement.
In order to seize the benefits of increased automation and plummeting IT services costs, however, buyers will have to transform to more standardized technology stacks across the IT organization. “The more clients standardize things like operating system instances, application interfaces, ITIL processes, and network infrastructure, the easier it is to automate operations,” says Jones. “Standardization means less interfaces, less complexity and fewer decisions that need to be made, therefore, it becomes easier to automate.”
Buyers should also approach process automation tools with standardization in mind. “Service providers are driving increased productivity into their services by using data mining and machine learning to aggregate and correlate data and then improve the quality and timeliness of decision making for routine and repetitive tasks,” Jones says. “Clients can enable and execute these transformations by accepting standard processes and technologies providers bring to the table.”