By the end of this year, humans will account for 58% of all work completed, with machines managing the remaining 42%. Among the growing types of automated technologies is robotic process automation (RPA), which focuses on software robots and AI emulating human actions. According to research, the RPA market will reach an estimated $23.9 billion by 2030, up from $2.09 billion in 2020. More organisations are jumping on the automation bandwagon as the eradication of manual tasks, the requirement to increase output and the need to reduce costs move to the top of business’ wish lists, says David Brakoniecki, managing director, BP3 Europe.
However, it’s not as simple as deploying the technology and immediately reaping every benefit. The automation hierarchy best explains the journey that organisations undergo and their level of technology adoption maturity. The first stage is the successful automation of tasks for individuals on their own devices. The second is automation across an entire process, and the third is the ability to tackle inter-departmental processes as part of an end-to-end journey. This third stage is the point in which company-wide automation becomes a reality as the technology becomes fully engrained.
To move up the hierarchy and make a success of automated technologies, businesses need to follow a four-step process and enable capabilities such as analytics-driven decision-making.
Step 1: Discover the mundane and repetitious work and automate it with robots
While it may sound obvious, this first step is critical to proving the business value of automation. Depending on the sector and specific business needs, the targets identified for automation will likely differ, but the aim is to reduce employee time spent on mundane and repetitious tasks. For example, a payroll department might be required to manually input addresses to send out pension auto enrolment letters to new employees. The process may only be a few minutes per letter, but this quickly adds up depending on the total numberthat needs to be sent. Automation can pre-populate the letter with the appropriate address and free up time for the employee.
In the telecoms sector, there’s a number of repetitious and high volume tasks that should be earmarked for automation. In the case of a mass rollout of broadband digital infrastructure in new build properties, employees are likely to be fielding a significant volume of emails to notify them of cable and equipment installation requirements. Automation can cover the coordination and delivery of equipment orders and even schedule technicians to travel to sites to complete installation work.
Step 2: Assign a robot to every employee in the business
With the use cases identified, the next step is to assign a robot to each person in the business to automate their repetitive tasks for them. This gives them the opportunity to focus on value-add tasks such as enhancing the customer experience or working on product innovation. This approach also places worker wellbeing at the forefront, helping to reduce burnout and promoting a better work-life balance.
The focus is on ensuring that each personal robot can augment and empower the human worker to deliver value in other areas, rather than replace them in their role. However, businesses may hit several roadblocks in integrating these technologies, perhaps due to a lack of knowledge internally. Relying on the expertise of a specialist partner will help guide them on the path to best practice implementation.
Step 3: Democratise development
The next step is to democratise development and upskill employees on the integration and effective use of automated tools and solutions. Over time, the digital skills gap has grown to become more of a chasm, particularly in the UK. According to AND Digital’s Nature of the Digital Skills Gap report, which surveyed 5,000 UK workers, over eight-in-ten (81%) managing directors say that a lack of digital skills is negatively affecting their company.
The way to help address this gap is via low-code applications, which require little to no coding experience. These applications prioritise a visual, intuitive drag-and-drop interface, rather than a technical coding environment, that can appeal to employees of all skill levels. Workers who have a passion to engage with automation but have little hands-on experience with automation tools can learn the basics and build their confidence in coding, enabling them to provide value. Not only does this approach help to address the skills shortage, but it also brings everyone on the same page in the business when using automation tools.
Step 4: Bring in artificial intelligence (AI)
AI can provide a variety of additional opportunities in the automation space. To understand where it can provide value, it’s important to distinguish the difference between AI and automation. While automation executes instructions devised by humans, AI can add another layer of sophistication by allowing automated solutions to apply broader rules set by humans, and determine the right actions to take.
By bringing together these two technologies, businesses can benefit from intelligent automation (IA). This provides the opportunity for organisations to increase productivity via faster automated applications. A range of structured and unstructured data sources can be leveraged to empower decision-making, forecasting and predictions. IA can also help to improve accuracy and enhance the customer experience by helping teams to understand what customers want and provide personalised offers to them via their preferred channel.
The promise of company-wide automation
Effective automation integration isn’t a project that can be completed overnight. It requires continual improvement and for every employee to be on board. With the right blend of automated technologies and expertise, businesses can follow these four steps, move up the automation hierarchy and ultimately enable the fully automated enterprise.
Those that reach the fourth step are ideally placed to build automation solutions quickly and easily. Humans are empowered with the right skills to integrate their own automation tools and leverage solutions to make a success of their role. They can manage, deploy and optimise at enterprise scale and run robots that work with established applications and data. Employees can also be engaged for seamless process collaboration, with operations and performance able to be measured against business outcomes.
The author is David Brakoniecki, managing director, BP3 Europe.
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