Robotic Process Automation: let humans be humanJames Dening, VP Europe at Automation Anywhere, discusses insights from their multi-market study into the impact of AI and automation in the workplace, conducted by Goldsmiths University.
The competitive edge
Technology impacting business is nothing new. For centuries we have witnessed businesses flex, react and adapt to ‘game-changing’ innovations that will alter the business landscape forever. From the invention of the telephone to the mass production of the motor car, to the more recent creation of the internet – all these technologies have helped shape modern-day business practices.
No one can avoid the hype around the latest technology disruptors; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The potential benefits and pitfalls of AI and RPA technologies are heavily debated. One thing is for sure, RPA adoption is growing rapidly and is set to become ever more prominent in modern organisations, over a surprisingly short period of time. Forrester estimates that, by 2021, there will be over 4 million robots doing office, administrative, sales, and related tasks, with the market worth $2.9 billion. Few will disagree that the democratisation of technology, in this modern age, has led to a more competitive business landscape than ever.
Companies need to move quickly; for those which don’t embrace AI and RPA may soon find themselves at the back of the pack, scrambling to keep up. The institutions which choose to ignore technologies that enable businesses to process information and carry out repetitive tasks more quickly, at a greater scale, and more accurately could inevitably lose their competitive edge.
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The augmented human enterprise
That being said, the well-worn argument that their bottom line purely drives business leaders who turn to AI and automation, is simply not true either. RPA is less about replacing humans with software bots, but more about allowing the human workforce to use its time and skills to focus on tasks that really need our ingenuity and creativity.
Recent academic research from Goldsmiths University highlights this fact. The study examined key differences in outcomes between companies that have augmented workforces, with people and automated bots working together, and companies that have yet to adopt AI and RPA technologies. Intriguingly, the research found that augmented workplaces score 33% higher on aspects considered to make a workplace more – not less – human. These augmented enterprises were 41% more likely to provide and encourage professional development for their human workforce than non-augmented businesses, 37% more likely to promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement, and 31% more likely to value high ethical standards.
It is clear that companies which use RPA in creative ways to make teams and processes more efficient by refocussing the attention of staff on tasks that demand higher-level skills, strategic thinking, and creativity, create a more engaged and happier workforce.
Unsurprisingly, the benefits to businesses embracing AI and RPA don’t stop at workplace culture and employee satisfaction. Those workplace gains bring tangible improvements to companies and their end-customers. The study also found that augmented companies achieved 28% higher overall performance, did 31% better financially, and was 24% more likely to innovate by are both present and future strategic goals.
The Augmented Human Enterprise study shows that businesses see a far higher return on their investment in RPA and AI when they also invest in people at the same time. The success of automation will be dependent on the success of the human workforce and vice versa.
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The value of human skills
So, what’s holding businesses back? Change is the single biggest challenge for companies of all sizes. The value that RPA can deliver is already proven, the benefits are widely reported and transparent. However, taking full advantage of the opportunity requires a different type of thinking across the entire organisation – this is not an area that large legacy enterprises are often comfortable with. Leaders embracing this ‘new normal’ are preparing their systems and people with the tools and skills to transform their organisations into the digital enterprises of tomorrow.
While the adoption of robotics and automation is happening quickly, companies have a responsibility to reskill and reorganise their workforce accordingly. It is vital that companies invest in their workforce to truly reap the benefits of automation: as RPA works alongside people, handling the repetitive computing and administration tasks, essential ‘human skills’ are becoming more important than ever and should be the primary focus when training and upskilling workers.
Diligent planning and management of workforce transformation will be at the heart of the most successful augmented enterprises. The workplace is changing quickly and significantly, so it is essential that companies have a comprehensive and significant plan to ensure that all areas of the business develop together and in the same, complementary direction. Point solutions will deliver impressive results in back-office transformation, but strategic thinking and sponsorship is required to turn today’s enterprises into tomorrow’s leaders.
Changing the game
With an eye towards the future, advanced business use of RPA is expected to more than double in Europe year on year for the next three years, as companies seek to improve customer experience and streamline their operations. European enterprises are at an exciting juncture – over the next few years RPA, AI and real-time analytics will help deliver significant value for businesses across a wide range of European enterprises and industries, ensuring growth in productivity, efficiency and output, and helping these firms and industries stay competitive at a local, regional and global level.
While human-level sentient AI is still decades away, AI-powered Robotic Process Automation is here today and is already ‘changing the game’ – the onus is now on businesses to adapt quickly, in order to carry on playing in the future.
For the future of the augmented enterprise is clear: a blended human and machine workforce of humans and bots in which both machines and people can do what they do best. Let machines be machines: repetitive, constant, and accurate. And let humans be human: strategic, creative, and curious.
Written by James Dening, Vice President Europe, Automation Anywhere