How Can The CIO Drive RPA As A Strategic Imperative?

The use of Robotic Process Automation, using concepts such as software bots, is emerging, but its use can’t succeed in isolation. The CIO needs to get involved to implement an enterprise strategy.

In recent years, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has emerged as an effective enabling technology to gain efficiencies by automating repetitive, rule-based, manual tasks and mitigating human error risks.

For example, AT&T has established and grown a footprint of 200 software bots across its customer service organization, a capability that emerged out of an innovation center. Now, launched as a simple-to-use, cloud based enterprise technology, these software bots can be used by any AT&T employee to automate manual work.

The growth projections for RPA have created a fair amount of excitement. Spend on RPA tools and services is expected to grow at 60% annually over the next five years according to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research. However, the RPA growth story has its challenges. While we continue to see initial interest and pilot initiatives amongst buyers to test automation technologies, some struggle to grow initial success into an enterprise level capability.

Even for buyers that have successfully executed automation initiatives, growth may be difficult to sustain with sporadic, stand-alone deployments across multiple business functions.

Proactive IT involvement is essential to RPA’s emergence as a strategic capability. Many business teams have eagerly adopted RPA due to its non-intrusive automation approach and minimal impact to current IT systems. However this move often results in marginalizing the IT team’s involvement in such initiatives. Further, CIOs across industries have been largely dismissive of RPA as a tactical short-term fix, ultimately to be usurped by traditional IT transformation or Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) projects.

There is a clear need for change, as IT has a pivotal role to play in growth of RPA as a strategic enterprise competency. CIOs must define the automation strategy for their organizations by developing a better understanding of the business requirements and driving RPA as an enterprise level capability—not dissimilar from the way cloud technologies have evolved in the last few years. Here are three steps for CIOs to consider:

1. Partner with business to be a trusted solution advisor. Business users can clearly define their automation needs, but RPA may not be the right answer in all situations. Some requirements can be better addressed with IT transformation or BPMS, and only IT can help make these crucial decisions. Also, regardless of the “light automation” offered by RPA solutions, a host of other IT considerations need to be factored in. Impact to existing security protocols and any possible risks to business and data due to automated processing need to be assessed carefully. Use of RPA software can increase transaction load on existing applications (robots work relentlessly, often drastically increasing productivity and system workload), posing the risk of unplanned downtime and wasteful use of support resources to recover crashed applications. As RPA solutions scale up from tens to hundreds of robots across the organization, adequate infrastructure and network capabilities need to be provisioned with well-defined contingency plans. Such issues can be addressed effectively only if the CIO’s organization gets involved upfront, develops a clear understanding of the business requirements, and proposes the right solution and implementation approach.

2. Select an enterprise-level platform to build RPA capability. As multiple individual functional owners experiment with automation, technology choices are seldom made cross-functionally. This could result in multiple RPA platform deployments across the organization, making it difficult to manage and scale automation and deliver a real enterprise capability to the overall business.

Organizations need to make the platform choice at an enterprise level, and no function is better positioned than IT to drive that decision. IT can conduct a thorough evaluation of technical capabilities and architectural considerations, including performance and reliability of the software, change control, access management, maintenance requirements and integration capabilities. For example, the platform should be able to easily setup a library of services that can be used to integrate with the existing application portfolio. By gaining a deeper understanding of business requirements, IT can make an informed choice of a platform that’s easy to manage and control. There are financial benefits from an enterprise level decision too, better pricing and contractual terms as compared to function-level deployments.

3. Establish an RPA Center Of Excellence (COE). The COE approach is fast emerging as the recommended operating model to grow an RPA footprint in medium and large enterprises. In one example, a financial services organization successfully launched a pilot project in 2008 to automate their claims receipt and adjudication processes, long before RPA became an industry buzzword. By launching an automation COE thereafter, this organization has successfully expanded RPA capabilities to several hundred bots operating across its domestic and international delivery centers.

Investment in a COE can help organizations to better manage requirements and deliver efficient automation solutions by:

  • Leveraging best practices and implementation experience to deploy RPA where it is the most effective choice for automation
  • Establishing a sustainable governance model to identify and qualify RPA opportunities, and to deploy and stabilize RPA solutions
  • Instituting an “asset management” approach to manage RPA deployments — For example, if RPA solutions become redundant to a particular function due to an IT project, the COE can re-use the technology for future initiatives elsewhere
  • Tracking, monitoring and reporting process improvements and financial benefits across the enterprise.

Such a COE should be staffed with both technical and functional resources, including RPA solution developers, project managers, process SMEs and business analysts, along with cross functional representation from human resources and procurement. Careful consideration should be given to whether the COE should be aligned to the CIO, even though conventional thinking suggests automation efforts have better likelihood of success while reporting to the business.

Ultimately, RPA’s light automation approach is here to stay, but its emergence as a strategic capability is contingent to the CIO’s office coming on board. Functional owners can take the initial baby steps, but IT can help take it to the next level with enterprise-grade results.

Source: informationweek.com-How Can The CIO Drive RPA As A Strategic Imperative?

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What is Robotic Process Automation, and what benefits could it bring to your enterprise?

What is the key to making Robotic Process Automation a success? HCL Technologies’ Kalyan Kumar looks at how business can benefit from leveraging the power of AI and automation.

It’s an age-old problem for the C-suite to solve: how do you do better and do more with less? Having invested in technological advances such as cloud and digitalisation over the last few years, many businesses are now at the part of the roadmap where they have budgeted for spend to level-out, and the forecasted benefits to roll in. However, investment is still needed in most cases, so how can enterprises continue to build when the resources available to them have ceased to grow? The answer is getting technology to lend even more of a helping hand than it is currently doing, in the form of analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) integrated Robotic Process Automation.

What form will Robotic Process Automation with AI take in the business arena?

On a practical level, Gartner says AI will manifest itself in the continued rise of the ‘smart machine,’ something it predicts to be one of the biggest technology trends over the coming decade. It says enterprises will increasingly draw on growing computing power and ever-increasing sources of data to adapt to new situations, solve problems and ultimately get ahead of the competition. One of the key ways that they can do this is by automating routine processes and using AI, so that the efforts of skilled employees can be redirected to areas that will be more beneficial to the business than ever before.

This is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) with AI comes in, enabling business and IT teams in an enterprise to automate processes using a virtual software robot. This robot interprets activities and stimuli within the business and then responds with an appropriate action, based on the parameters defined by the business. In effect, RPA with AI emulates a human operator, or acts as a tool to carry out repeatable processes or tasks. For example, it could be used by a bank to auto-complete registration forms when processing a higher than expected number of applications for a recently-launched type of account. Firms in a range of other sectors could also enjoy the benefits of being able to handle a sudden peak in inbound calls using of a virtual service desk employee to route inquiries more efficiently.

Reaping the benefits

Businesses will benefit greatly from having functions and processes automated at scale, and with repeatability. In addition to bringing potential cost reductions, RPA can also streamline processes and enhance the overall end-user experience. There are four big benefits enterprises should be able to draw from this:

  • A more consistent experience than ever before. With robots following specific formulae and layouts, and performing at a uniform speed, a standard level of output should be more achievable than ever before.
  • Deeper insights into business / IT performance and customer experience.
  • A reduction in the level of human error. We all become fatigued and make mistakes on occasion; this potential for error is limited by the use of RPA.
  • More speedy execution than ever before, with some areas of the business able to run 24/7. This means enterprises will be in a much better position to keep things moving even when it’s the end of the working day for its human employees.

Is it for everyone?

As with the adoption of any new kind of technology, enterprises must build a realistic business case for Robotic Process Automation before taking the plunge, or it could just be a wasted effort. This means taking the time to map out costs and expected benefits before budgets can be assigned and work can get underway. The key to making this work is thinking about RPA with analytics and AI from a wider strategic perspective: it’s no good just making vague statements about the potential benefits it can bring. Be clear on exactly what the end goal is, and how it will bring improvements to different existing processes within the business.

Once funds have been secured, businesses must develop a clear idea of the internal processes that are already running: what duty does everything perform, and what does it connect with? As the wires can become increasingly tangled here, it goes without saying that processes that have not previously been integrated and automated in the past will be much easier to improve through the use of RPA. Businesses will also need to consider how processes that are supported by their legacy IT systems will be impacted, as it will be much more difficult to integrate Robotic Process Automation with older technologies. The good news is that it is relatively simple to integrate RPA with existing automation and orchestration platforms, so those that have already invested in machine learning technologies may have much of the groundwork already in place.

Success as part of the wider picture

It’s also important to realise that the benefits won’t be so great if you’re automating a
single or standalone process. To be truly effective, RPA must be integrated with a complete service delivery chain to streamline the entire process, rather than just one small part of it. Furthermore, when Robotic Process Automation is integrated with Cognitive/Machine Learning capabilities, it will be able to learn to complete new processes and functions by itself, which is where it will really start to have a positive impact for the workforce.

The key to making RPA a success is taking the time to ensure it is embedded deep within existing systems and business operations. By skipping that stage, there is the risk that RPA will be tacked on simply for its own sake and is unlikely to deliver the benefits it can provide. If they get it right however, enterprises will be perfectly placed to leverage the power of AI and automation to accelerate the adoption and dynamic adjustment of process change in the digital world, proving a real springboard to success for the 21st Century enterprise.

Source: cbronline.com -What is Robotic Process Automation, and what benefits could it bring to your enterprise?

How to do automation right

Automating manual or inefficient processes is the bread and butter of any technology organization. Here are nine considerations for approaching process automation tasks the right way, and ultimately delivering successfully.

1. Avoid ‘automated crap’

A colleague of mine once quipped that automating a ‘crap’ process just results in ‘automated crap,’ and while the language might be a bit uncouth, the sentiment is absolutely correct. It can be tempting when tasked with automating a process to immediately start considering the systems and software to deploy; however, it’s worth determining whether the process is currently valid, effective, and necessary before diving into automating it. Furthermore, some processes simply should not be automated.

2. Check your options

Sometimes pure technology is not the right answer for process automation, as the whole offshore process outsourcing business can attest to. While there are myriad risks and considerations to process outsourcing, considering non-technology options for process ‘automation’ should be part of your evaluation and due diligence process.

3. Look for cheap fixes

Similar to avoiding ‘automated crap,’ before digging into the technical aspects of automation, consider whether there are low- or zero-cost changes that can make the process more efficient. In particular, look for areas where data are painstakingly gathered but no one knows why they’re needed, or complex workflows ‘ping-pong’ a process between multiple operators when one person could perform several steps. Automation should be icing on the cake of a well-designed process; if you don’t have the cake, all the icing in the world won’t prepare you for the birthday party.

4. Size the solution to the problem

I was once tasked with building a complex automated order management process for ‘selling’ scrap paper that had dozens of unique tracking and invoicing requirements. As we contemplated solutions, I asked how much revenue was generated by this process, and was solemnly told it was “as much as $500 annually.” While the goal of integrating all sales processes in one system was laudable, a $50,000 solution to a $500 problem was laughable. Simply disposing of the scrap paper was a far more cost-effective solution than expensive automation.

5. Consider the KPIs

When we automate, we usually consider increased speed or reduced cost as the ultimate successful outcome of the automation effort. However, these may not be the right KPIs in some cases. Shortening the time to handle a customer sales call might increase the number of calls you can process, but will reduce sales revenue since reps no longer have time to cross sell, just as a confusing automated system can actually increase customer service calls, producing the exact opposite of the intended outcome. Before reflexively considering cost and speed as your key KPIs, think a level deeper and add KPIs that will mitigate unintended outcomes.

6. Consider the user experience (UX)

Along with well-defined KPIs, User Experience (UX) should also factor into your automation concerns, both from the perspective of the process operator(s) as well as the consumer of the process. Automation that’s targeted toward an employee with minimal training will require more robust error handling than one that’s in the hands of a skilled operator. Similarly, extra time spent ensuring the process is clearly articulated and displayed toward the operator and end customer will ultimately make the process more efficient by reducing errors and confusion. For example, self-checkout systems at the grocery store were supposed to be a superior option to human-assisted checkout. However, users quickly learned that manually finding and keying codes for produce and bagging their own groceries was inferior and slower than checkouts staffed by humans, resulting in low adoption rates of self-checkout. Obviously, these systems save the store staffing costs, but ultimately they increase customer frustration.

7. Test the edge cases

A key failure point for many automated systems is poor testing. The automation is great ‘most of the time’ but completely breaks down during an edge case or error condition. While there’s a risk of ‘over-testing’ and becoming obsessively focused on convoluted and unlikely use cases, it’s imperative that the automation recover gracefully from predictable errors. What happens if unexpected data are entered? How does the automation respond to a system that’s down? How does the automation recover and guide a user when failures occur?

8. Avoid ‘orphaned’ automation

Like any IT project, once automation is successfully deployed it’s tempting to cross the item off the organizational to-do list, and not revisit the automation until it’s obsolete or fails. As part of your regular maintenance activities, check the performance of key automated processes. Perhaps there’s a new tool or technique that could quickly be adopted for significant benefit, or a minor technology upgrade could provide dramatic returns. Applying continuous improvement practices to your process automation efforts can reap additional benefits from your automation at lower costs than new efforts.

9. Innovate

It can be easy to apply the same solutions and techniques to your ongoing automation efforts, but take a moment to consider if there are new technologies or services that might be more effective at accomplishing your automation goals. Emerging technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies could be relevant to the automation problem at hand, or perhaps you’re tasked with automating a low-risk process that could serve as a test case for advanced tools and techniques.

While process automation is old hat to many IT organizations, to the point that it’s seen as a low-level activity that can be given limited attention, there are very real considerations, concerns, and benefits to effective process automation. Executing a difficult technical task often has less visible impact, and associated financial benefit, to shaving some time or improving the quality of a process that’s performed thousands of times each day.

 

Source: How to do automation right

Image Credit: iStock

Could Robots Actually Create More Jobs?

But a new study from Redwood Software and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) offers a bit of an antidote.

The report looked at trends in robotics automation in 23 countries over the past 20 years to quantify their impact on GDP per capita and labor productivity. The analysis revealed that robotics now adds more value to the economy than traditionally lucrative industries like financial services and transportation. However, that compared to job growth indicates that we actually aren’t losing workers to automation.

“There is clear evidence that points toward robotic automation in many cases being a complement for human labor, rather than a direct substitute,” said David Whitaker, managing economist at CEBR, in a statement. He asserted that mundane tasks are the ones being automated. As such, Whitaker said, “Human effort becomes more valuable as it is focused on higher-level tasks, creativity, know-how, and thinking.”

Investment in robotics has a greater positive impact on the economy than more established sectors such as information technology, construction, and real estate, according to the report. A 1% increase in robotics investment, the report says, correlates with an increase in GDP per capita of 0.03%.

The report revealed that the U.S. is leading the charge to invest in automation technologies with an estimated robotics stock of $732 billion.

As for the jobs themselves, Neil Kinson, chief of staff at Redwood Software, believes that robotics automation is actually increasing the total number of jobs available. Indeed, the U.S. economy added over 2 million jobs for 75 months since 2009. Like Whitaker, Kinson maintains that work will ultimately change. “The increased level of automation investment highlights the need to rethink how we approach the skill sets needed in the workplace, and the importance of working with automation,” he said, “and not against it.”

Source: FastCompany-Could Robots Actually Create More Jobs? 

How this NYC startup is using bots to create a more human workforce

At seven-year-old startup WorkFusion, employees are working at the helm of what they call ‘intelligent automation.’

The New York company is in the business of Robotic Process Automation, with the lofty goal of building the future of work. Their software can sift through massive volumes of content and make intelligent decisions — automating menial, low-impact tasks that take up 40 percent of workers’ days, and up to 90 percent of a person’s manual work.

WorkFusion was founded by Max Yankelevich and Andrew Volkov out of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab in 2011. Now, backed by over $71 million in venture capital, the company digitizes business tasks and operations, including processes like accounts payable, customer onboarding and chatbots that increase service capabilities.

We caught up with Adam Devine, WorkFusion’s Head of Marketing, to discuss what the company is up to now, and how that will play into its long-term vision of using software to reduce the “carbon footprint” of companies’ business operations by driving rapid productivity by way of artificial intelligence.

In laymen’s terms, what is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that uses software bots to perform repetitive tasks on legacy systems. RPA tools operate the user interfaces of enterprise applications such as Citrix, Oracle and SAP to automate routine actions such as data entry, insurance claims payouts, information verification and send responses by following programmed rules. RPA reduces human resources required for high-volume business processes. It can greatly improve the quality and speed of processing for shared services organizations – especially within data-intensive industries such as banking, financial services, insurance and healthcare.

In what ways will RPA change the future of work in the short-term?

There have been many recent headlines on robotics eliminating jobs. RPA doesn’t fully replace jobs; it redistributes menial tasks from a workers’ day and frees up time for them to focus on more complex tasks. Software bots complete these tasks faster, and with fewer errors, and people are elevated to work that requires their intelligence and critical thinking. Those who incorporate RPA into their processes and workflows will see big efficiency gains.

In the long term?

RPA is the first step to digitization. Once adopted, many businesses see its impact and want to expand their automation efforts. RPA is often a stepping stone to intelligent automation, which uses machine learning to automate business processes with more variability and judgment work. It applies natural language processing, optical character recognition (OCR), image recognition and more to gain context and make judgments, and it can learn over time. By pairing RPA with these cognitive technologies, enterprises minimize operational bottlenecks and support high-level jobs and workers through automation. This combination can have a far-reaching impact, improving everything from productivity to lowering the bottom line to customer relationships to employee engagement by freeing workers of boring, mundane work.

In what ways does WorkFusion digitize business?

The expectations for real-time output has increased and businesses are struggling to meet this demand. WorkFusion’s automation tools are being applied to a number of horizontal and industry-specific processes. Horizontally, our RPA tool automates and eliminates the ‘swivel chair’ work of entering credentials, navigating application user interfaces and performing core systems functions.

Vertically, there are many industries benefiting from our solutions. In the insurance industry, for example, WorkFusion’s AI capabilities are being used to take over the first step in the claims process to match customer information in databases. It’s also being used for regulatory compliance, handling tasks such as LEI mapping and verifying customers, as well as fact checking and reconciling life insurance claims to detect fraud. In banking, our AI-powered chatbots are trained on historical conversations so they can perform the same tasks as a human agent, such as answering customer questions or even fixing an invoice without burdening people. These are just some examples of how we’re digitizing operations.

How is it possible that WorkFusion eliminates 90 percent of manual work?

Our software bots and cognitive technologies are used for work that requires little to no human intervention to incredibly high-volume back- and front-office tasks. Our AI capabilities learn highly manual tasks in any industry with the need for data scientists – and get smarter over time.

What’s in the pipeline for WorkFusion this year?

In the coming weeks, WorkFusion will be releasing RPA Express, a free tool, to the general public. The beta, released in December, sparked great interest in the product, with hundreds of companies signing up. This tool is a great way for companies to get started or accelerate their digitization efforts and get quick wins and efficiency-gains with no cost or risk. Another project we’re excited about is the launch of our public education portal ‘Automation University’ this summer to help operations and IT teams learn more about RPA. The free materials, classes and exams offered will help organizations grow the maturity of their skill base.

If WorkFusion hits the market right, then what?

We were founded in and have been building our solutions since 2011. We often joke that we were four years too early for the market. The demand for and adoption of Process Automation tools is just becoming more widespread, but we’re ready to capitalize on it. We’ve got a strong customer base already seeing results and believe our RPA Express solution – the world’s first free RPA product – will attract many more that want to begin or accelerate their digitization efforts and will eventually grow into the full breadth of intelligent automation capabilities that WorkFusion provides.

The global RPA market alone is expected to reach $8.75 billion by 2024. And that’s just RPA. When looking at robotics and related services more broadly, this number is expected to reach $135 billion globally by 2019. We also see a big opportunity to take some of the nearly $63.5 billion global business process outsourcing market – our automation technology is already taking over many tasks traditionally outsourced to companies overseas.

Source: builtinnyc.com-How this NYC startup is using bots to create a more human workforce

Robotic Process Automation Takes on the Data Challenge

A relatively new field, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is best thought of as robotics. The key difference is that the thing being manipulated at lightning fast speeds is data, not automobiles or electronics.

RPA is the performance by bots of repetitive rules-based processes that involve databases and other forms of structured data (such as data captured in databases). It is used in data-intensive industries such as banking, financial services, insurance and health care, according to Adam Devine, vice president and head of marketing for WorkFusion. “In fewer words, RPA helps companies do with technology what they did before with people.”

It is a technology whose time has come. The advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data – interrelated disciplines that collect and analyze huge amounts of data, respectively – makes RPA a necessary tool, not something that is nice to have, but not mission-critical.

A Booming RPA Market Potential

 The demand for RPA is clearly showing up in the numbers. “We have seen projections of 60 percent compounded annual growth rate,” wrote David Schatsky, the managing director of Deloitte LLP, in response to emailed questions. “There is no question that here in the U.S., interest is very strong.”

Ian Barkin, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Symphony Ventures, holds an even more upbeat view of the category’s potential. “[W]hite-collar office jobs are everywhere; this is a service economy after all,” Barkin wrote. “So, yes, RPA robots have a much bigger impact. Our estimates are that there is a $2.5 to $3 trillion market for middle and back-office work addressable in Shared Services centers alone.”

RPA and Jobs

The impact of RPA mirrors concerns about automation and physical robotics. It is impossible to say exactly how it will play out, but the early indications are that the outcome will be positive.

The negative interpretation is simple: RPA will replace people. The more positive (and perhaps more nuanced) outlook layer, though, starts with the idea that the emergence of Big Data and the IoT will make it impossible for people to accurately process enough data to keep up. Humans would become the limiting factor. Thus, RPA doesn’t eliminate jobs – it makes new areas of work possible.

These people will be freed up for advanced training and, ultimately, more challenging jobs. “For every task that a machine automates, a human is elevated to a new, more complex task,” Devine wrote in response to emailed questions from IT Business Edge. “By redistributing repetitive tasks to robots – even those that can’t be scripted with rules – companies can use their human capital for tasks that really need human intelligence. This promotes capacity and competitive advantage within a company thanks to cost reduction and speed gains (robotics complete these tasks faster, and with fewer errors). This means more jobs, deeper skill sets, improved productivity, and the chance for humans to put their creative power toward future innovation.”

While a technology that starts by reducing the work force seems threatening, the end result could be to free people from mental drudgery. “We should embrace the technology of automation as not only a digital revolution, but also an intellectual revolution where we allow robots to take over repetitive, boring tasks and move forward to more challenging roles that involve problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity that will deliver more value to our work and even enrich our lives,” he wrote.

Francine Haliva, the head of marketing for Kryon Systems, listed dozens of new work titles that RPA will make possible. She added that there are different levels of RPA technologies. Some run on virtual machines and are more or less self-contained. Others are deployed on the employees’ desktops to support work that he or she is doing. “With ‘attended’ automation, human workers can trigger automation processes right from their desktop, at the time of need,” she wrote. “This dramatically cuts time to proficiency for anyone operating new applications or software release, reduces errors, increases productivity and improves job satisfaction.”

Schatsky agrees that the idea of RPA may be freeing. “Over time, we may see people’s jobs evolve, from interacting with systems in routine ways to performing tasks that require more judgement and flexibility,” he wrote. “But we haven’t seen large-scale job losses associated with RPA so far. Automation often, but not always, evolves, changing people’s jobs, rather than entirely eliminating jobs.”

Whatever the details are, RPA as a category is expanding rapidly.

“From our vantage point, it’s exploding,” wrote Symphony Ventures’ Barkin. “All major enterprises are now asking the question, ‘Can we automate this?’ first, rather than ‘Can we centralize, nearshore, offshore, outsource, etc.?’ That has happened only in the last two years. 2017 is going to be a frantic race for all enterprises to prove that transformation is going digital in meaningful and impactful ways.”

Source: itbusinessedge.com-Robotic Process Automation Takes on the Data Challenge

The hidden figures behind automation

The current job description of an accounts payable clerk will disappear in possibly as little as 20 years. This may seem bleak, but the reality is that software advances, developments in robotics, AI and machine learning are bringing a new age of automation — one in which machines will be able to outperform humans in various work tasks.

According to McKinsey Global institute’s January 2017 report on the future of automation, nearly half of the activities that people are paid to do in the global economy can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology. Activities most susceptible to this automation are repetitive, non-creative tasks such as data collection and processing. This puts at risk many jobs in customer service, sales, invoicing, account management and other data entry positions, not the least of which includes AP clerks.

However, these projections don’t necessarily mean that the future is hopeless for those holding AP positions. In McKinsey’s words, “People will need to continue working alongside machines to produce the growth in per capita GDP to which countries around the world aspire.”

Skilled employees will work alongside software automation and RPA (robotic process automation) to approve data analyzation, guide software in the right direction and even perform tasks that we may not know exist yet. This will require some new skills-based learning, but it is also an opportunity for AP department employees to step out from behind the curtain, develop their job descriptions and have more interesting and meaningful jobs. Employees will be able to focus on raising their profile, supporting the business with more meaningful work, providing good internal service, and in turn, be more motivated.

Reckon this is wishful thinking? Think again. It’s been done before.

After all, the first “computers” wore skirts.
In the early decades of the 1900s, mathematical and technical calculations were made manually rather than by machine. This work required a large workforce to compute all the information. With the industrial boom brought on by WWII, organizations like NASA began recruiting women for this work, who they called “computers.” It has even been said that “the first computers wore skirts.”

Eventually, as the machines we know today as computers began to develop, many of these manual tasks were automated. Rather than discarding the women that had previously done this job, NASA and other organizations simply retrained employees to work alongside these machines and perform less menial tasks. This conscious step allowed the women who had been the quiet backbone of the organization to make themselves and their work known.

One example recently made popular by the book and award-winning film Hidden Figures is that of African-American physicist and mathematician Katherine Johnson and her team. Johnson worked as a “computer” on NASA’s early team from 1953-1958, where she analyzed topics such as gust alleviation for aircrafts. When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s first orbit around the earth, officials asked Johnson to verify the computer’s numbers and her reputation for accuracy helped establish confidence in the new technology. Johnson herself went on to use these new computers to aid in calculations until her retirement in 1986. Similarly, the value of AP clerks and other accounting professionals will shift as they become valuable as human analysts and strategists, vital in the role of validating a machine’s processes.

These kinds of shifts can be seen throughout history, like in the move away from agriculture and decreases in manufacturing share of employment in the United States, both of which were accompanied by the creation of new types of work not foreseen at the time.

We can expect a similar response to automation in the accounts payable department. As AP software becomes more advanced, clerks and controllers will evolve to work with it, not be replaced by it. The important work of AP clerks will no longer be in the shadows. The job will be transformed from “paper pusher” to vital business asset.

Source: accountingtoday.com-The hidden figures behind automation

How to supercharge robotic process automation

Enterprises across industries have deployed RPA with cognitive technologies to automate routine business processes such as fulfilling purchase orders. (Image: Deloitte)

Robotic process automation (RPA), technology that lets software robots replicate the actions of human workers for routine tasks such as data entry, is altering the way organizations handle many of their key business and IT processes.

Advances in automation and robotics are putting a lot of jobs at risk. Here are ten jobs first in line for the robot takeover.

 

When RPA is used in conjunction with cognitive technologies, its capabilities can be significantly expanded.

“The integration of cognitive technologies with RPA makes it possible to extend automation to processes that require perception or judgment,” said David Schatsky, managing director at consulting firm Deloitte.

“With the addition of natural language processing, chatbot technology, speech recognition, and computer vision technology, for instance, bots can extract and structure information from speech audio, text, or images and pass that structured information to the next step of the process,” Schatsky said.

In another example Schatsky cited, machine learning can identify patterns and make predictions about process outcomes, helping RPA prioritize actions. “Cognitive RPA has the potential to go beyond basic automation to deliver business outcomes such as greater customer satisfaction, lower churn, and increased revenues,” he said.

In a report Schatsky authored in 2016, called “Robotic Process Automation: A Path to the Cognitive Enterprise,” he noted that enterprises are beginning to employ RPA together with cognitive technologies such as speech recognition, natural language processing, and machine learning to automate perceptual and judgment-based tasks once reserved for humans.

The integration of cognitive technologies and RPA is extending automation to new areas and can help companies become more efficient and agile as they move down the path of becoming fully digital businesses, the report said.

Processes that require human judgment within complex scenarios, such as complex claims processing, can’t be automated through RPA alone, the report noted. It cited one RPA vendor as saying even its most mature clients automate at most 50 percent of back-office processes, and the majority of clients automate far fewer.

Cognitive RPA has the potential to go beyond basic automation to provide business outcomes such as enhanced customer satisfaction, lower churn, and increased revenues, the report said.

The Deloitte report provided an example of a leading global bank that used cognitive RPA to automate 57 percent of its payments work in the highly regulated area of foreign trade finance.

The challenges of automating this process end-to-end included: the need to work with highly unstructured data such as invoices, bills, declarations, certificates, and letters; a high daily volume of transactions that needed same-day processing; and the need to interface with multiple core systems. The solution combined traditional RPA techniques with several cognitive technologies to automate most steps in the process.

Leading RPA vendors are incorporating cognitive technologies into their offerings, and large RPA providers are partnering with vendors of cognitive technologies. For example, Blue Prism and IBM Watson have partnered to bring cognitive capabilities to customers.

Enterprises across industries such as banking, insurance, and transportation have deployed RPA with cognitive technologies to automate routine business processes such as fulfilling purchase orders and new hire on-boarding, the report said.

Source: ZDNet-How to supercharge robotic process automation

Five questions to ask before considering robotic process automation

Speed. Efficiency. Higher quality. Lower costs. These are the key benchmarks by which enterprise IT has been measured since the earliest days of its existence. These outcomes have always been achieved by some combination of man and machine, but with advances in cloud and digital technology, the balance is shifting away from human labor and moving toward technology-driven solutions.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the rise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Software robots are increasingly performing important and onerous tasks that have traditionally been done by humans: taking over work processes, manipulating data, communicating between systems, and processing and recording transactions.

Not surprisingly, RPA can do these tasks at a fraction of the cost of human equivalents, with dramatic improvement in quality and reliability. In fact, in the healthcare industry, one RPA bot – which can be procured at a cost of $10,000 -$15,000 – can process claims at the rate of 5-10 humans working full-time. Not to mention RPA allows businesses to dramatically reengineer and improve key processes.

Even the jobs question is not as sticky as one might expect. It’s true that full-time equivalent savings are essential to the business case for investing in RPA, and this often sets the stage for conflict between those advocating for RPA and those whose positions will be eliminated. However, there is a silver lining found in two essential elements of all RPA implementations:

1. The ability to move humans from routine, rote jobs into higher-value roles with work that is far more engaging increases employee satisfaction and often fills open positions with staff that have “tribal knowledge” that would take new employees years to build

2. Organizations seem to gain a greater appreciation for the importance of organizational change management – the communications, expectation management and planning – that lays the groundwork for successfully transferring work from humans to robots.

So, with relatively little investment and simple implementation, RPA may seem like an opportunity no-brainer – but realizing the real payoff of automation requires some careful deliberation. Here are five questions to ask when considering RPA for the first time:

1. Where are your pain points?

Where in your organization are humans spinning their wheels with repetitive and mundane tasks that take them away from more important, higher value work? Where are kinks hindering the workflow? Where are employees transferring data from one application to another or keying in large volumes of information by hand. Where are errors most likely to occur? Where is your staff not able to meet your SLA’s? Pinpointing these scenarios in your organization will help you create an “automate-ability map,” a picture of the processes that may be easily “automatable” with RPA tools. Start with a small number of these use cases so you can talk about the application of RPA in concrete terms and deliver quick results.

2. What are your priorities for an investment in automation?

After mapping out which processes in your environment are automatable, develop and evaluate the business case for doing so. Estimating the investment and the potential advantages for a particular use case is a smart way to initiate the RPA conversation with leadership. Enterprises across industries – including insurance, banking, telecommunications and manufacturing – are creating compelling business cases for deploying RPA to process invoices for payment or generate weekly reports that once required people to extract data from one application into a spreadsheet and manually save it into another. Estimated time and cost savings, and accurate estimates of what it will take to configure and deploy the automation, should be an important part of the decision matrix.

3. How ready is your organization for change?

Automating business processes with RPA requires more than simply giving people a head’s up that change is coming. The scope, nature and complexity of the processes being automated will determine the requirements for managing organizational change, which impacts the broader culture and operating characteristics of the organization. Managing major change is part art and part science. Before you dive into the RPA pool, determine your organization’s aptitude for change, organizational redesign and transition planning. Also take the time to determine the complexity of the automation scripts you are considering implementing so you know what change management practices will be needed, in which functional areas and across which parts of the business.

4. What is IT’s role?

Even though RPA tools can be implemented by business users and, once up and running, require relatively few IT resources, it’s important to involve IT early on – even as early as the consideration phase. RPA is a corporate asset; if it is going to deliver its full potential in terms of process automation and data integration, it needs to be configured correctly on a secure server in the IT environment and included in IT’s critical processes that support security management and back up/contingency planning. RPA also can be considered a boon to IT, since many times it can be leveraged by business users to automate requests that are otherwise pending with IT, thus reducing the backlog list of modifications and enhancements IT needs to deliver.
5. What are the security requirements for this particular initiative?

IT will need to know how your RPA tools are going to interact with IT infrastructure and applications. Credentials will be required to enable your bots to access network resources and interface with applications and file structures. Remember that bots often have an advantage here – while human workers may browse the Internet, shop and share information across contacts, RPA tools will execute only the scripts or commands they are programmed to execute, making them more secure than many human users. Still, be prepared to have the conversation with IT about how to credential RPA tools and how to govern their access to the network.

Thinking through these considerations upfront can make both the business and the CIO winners. By freeing workers from dull and monotonous back-office processes – and by offsetting the IT work required to support countless applications throughout the enterprise – RPA can set up the business to make higher-order, more creative work happen, all while driving savings to bottom line.

Source: information-management.com-Five questions to ask before considering robotic process automation

Robotics Process Automation Deja Vu

Those of us who have been around the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) world are starting to get a sense of déjà vu. More and more companies are expecting non-technology resources within the organization to know how to use RPA. Although RPA technologies were originally intended for business resources to more easily develop and manage automation, it really wasn’t realistic as software providers promised: “If you can use Excel Macros, you can use X RPA solution.”

So what should be the make-up of a successful RPA implementation team?

Reality bites

When the rubber meets the road at the outset of an implementation, it becomes very clear that “macro monkeyswere building robots that had one of two problems:

  1. They broke when they got to real-world situations.
  2. They were not maintainable in the long run.

In fact, not only was it not possible for business resources to create reliable, real-world automation, but even hard-core technical resources needed a certain aptitude and specialized training. To develop good automation, specific engineering discipline is required, and most developers need training to cultivate it.

The rise of the machines

As RPA has risen in popularity over the last year or two, we have seen a resurgence in expectations that business resources will be able to develop automation. Is there hope that we will be successful this time around? Spoiler alert: It is possible, but definitely not easy.

At Cognizant, we call our vision “Robot Utopia” (more on that in a future post). Robot Utopia makes heavy use of the ability of business resources to identify, build, execute, monitor, and maintain automation.

Key automation ingredients

Our research on this is not yet complete, but there are a couple of principles I’d like to share with you.

The first is that the business resources cannot be trusted to engineer a good solution. But when properly trained, they can identify opportunities that are the foundation for creating reliable components for automation. It is very important to have professional automation engineers involved to provide reliable reusable components (think Lego blocks).

The second major lesson relates to engagement. The business resources have a real job to do and they will only invest in automation to the extent that automation will make their job easier. Convincing them to spend their time learning relevant automation techniques, and then building, operating, and maintaining automation is a critical component.

The edge of tomorrow

If business resources are going to be part of your RPA development strategy, take special care not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The best way that I can recommend to do that is to work closely with a partner who has experience in exactly these matters. Ask the tough questions. Get comfortable with the plan and make sure that your partner has attended this rodeo before.

Source: digitally.cognizant.com-Robotics Process Automation Deja Vu