Robotics: A Business Led Opportunity
The idea of a robotic “workforce” has lost some of its fear factor as we recognize the benefits of modern day RPA (Robotic Process Automation). But the key challenge is still to find the right internal talent, as we heard at last week’s European Shared Services and Outsourcing Week, which took place in Manchester, UK.
RPA is always business led, we were reminded, unlike most other technology implementations. So it’s doubly important to engage those people who have deep process knowledge.
“All successful implementations of RPA are business-driven, by business people,” Paul Donaldson from ISG reminded us during a pre-conference workshop. The characteristics most likely to support successful implementation include being a doer versus being a thinker, which is important in terms of delivering results at the pipeline interface. Keep strategic thinkers for senior-level sales pitches, was the recommendation; leverage “doers” at the rock face.
In addition, while some practitioners get bogged down in trying to fix a process first, grabbing 60% of the benefits now and worrying about the additional 40% later delivers the kind of results that the business will feel today – and buy into. It’s this kind of problem-solving versus a mid- to long-term strategic approach, that works best for RPA, we heard.
The most effective model for delivering robotics is through a centralized Center of Excellence approach that can be rolled out across the organization based on business case prioritization. It’s also easier to drive governance across one center as opposed to a fragmented approach.
Where Artificial Intelligence enters the picture is in its ability to see, hear, and understand as we would. “Artificial Intelligence (AI) works with RPA, not instead of it,” explained Wayne Butterfield, previously with O2 and now Director of Cognitive Innovation & Automation at ISG. “If you see cognitive ability as the ears, eyes and brains…RPA is the arms and legs. You cannot leverage AI without RPA.”
For example, consider unstructured emails. When you add the Artificial Intelligence embedded in Natural Language Processing (NLP) it becomes possible for the system to understand the intent, and pass this intelligence on for robotic process automation work. Essentially the addition of AI and cognitive capabilities enable technology to deal with more complex processes.
Another aspect of the intelligent technology revolution – machine learning – will make it possible to tackle really complex processes by leveraging “super-intelligence”. For example, the ability to recognize not just OCR, but scanned images of anything, and turn this into digital data, will play a large part in tomorrow’s businesses.
What really sets this evolution apart is that process automation will seamlessly move from the back office to incorporate middle and even front office activities. The addition of AI via NLP and machine learning, for instance, means that we will be able to understand a customer’s or supplier’s intent, and connect this with the robotic processing capability of RPA, which will generate enormous value across the entire enterprise.