On 27 September, Advanced will be ‘Talking Tech’, when I join their panel at this information-sharing forum for IT professionals to discuss all things automation. This is an important topic, as in today’s challenging business environment, organisations are on the lookout for new ways to boost efficiency. Automation can alleviate some of these pressures. It offers improved accountability, efficiency and predictability while reducing cost, variability and risk. Traditionally seen as the domain of only the very largest enterprises, a new wave of accessible automation solutions are coming our way, meaning even smaller firms can benefit.
There is a lot of media buzz around the topic, but some automation services have been helping us for a while – for example, those used in invoice capture. Most finance functions spend 50% of their effort ensuring compliance and filling out statutory returns, and just 25% of their time analysing what is helping the business to make money1. Many organisations are now looking to automate their financial processes, but it can also be applied to any department with critical processes – such as HR, procurement or the supply chain.
Automation acts as a workforce multiplier, increasing output and reducing time wasted on repetitive and low-skilled processes. For example, Clerksroom, a barristers’ chambers, now use a junior robot clerk to automate many of its administrative processes, saving its clerks around 200 hours every month. Manufacturer, Aspire Furniture, is now able to process 500 orders in just 15 minutes – over 150 times faster than with the manual processes they used before the automated systems.
Automation can also improve customer care. Within the NHS, the ‘Ask NHS’ app, uses clinical decision support technology to improve patient experience and relieve pressures on GP surgeries in Lewisham with a virtual health assistant app. This automation enables general practices to better manage patient demand and reduce the burden on overstretched doctors. Ask NHS allows patients to access clinically validated health guidance, to check symptoms, obtain self-care advice and book or cancel an appointment.
There is still a concern amongst some that automation will have a negative impact on jobs within an organisation. However, technology can elevate roles to become more strategic and allow employees the time to up-skill. It is important that staff see the value in using automation and support the process or the implementation won’t deliver the anticipated payback.
The message should not be ‘robots are coming to take our jobs’ but that people plus machines – rather than versus them – can really accelerate business benefit. There are things that machines can do faster and with more accuracy, and there are things that humans excel at – the secret is to spot the difference. It is vital to step back and rethink how your business operates. Then use resources intelligently to reboot your productivity and unlock the potential of your people, and therefore your organisation. If done correctly, automation can result in a re-energised workforce who have the time to innovate and can make a greater contribution to the success of the business.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) takes things one-step further, automating repetitive tasks without any need for manned input. Able to mimic human activity, following simple rules to make decisions, it can completely relieve teams from boring and repetitive work so they can focus on high-value tasks. RPA tools can increase the speed and accuracy of these processes, improving efficiency without changing the underlying systems. It uses software, commonly known as a ‘robot’ to capture and interpret existing IT applications to enable transaction processing, data manipulation and communication across multiple systems.
Multiple robots can be seen as a virtual workforce – a back-office processing centre without the need for human resources. Interest in RPA is growing, as it can improve the effectiveness of operations faster and at lower cost than other automation approaches. We are increasingly seeing deployments reaching enterprise scale and operating on processes right across an organisation.
Businesses today need to build an ecosystem of digital innovation, with Cloud applications and automation tools that will transform the way they operate. This will create the kind of agile organisation that is ready to adapt and transform in order to thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
*1 Statistics provided by KPMG for article in April 2017 issue of Finance and Management