“Don’t blame you,” said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second later.”
Marvin the Robot – (Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”)
Robots have captured our imaginations for a long time. Many movies, such as the 1951 classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” featuring Gort, the laser wielding protector of Klaatu, or the 2008 blockbuster “WALL-E,” the roving trash compactor left behind to clean up a future polluted planet Earth, entertain us with far out depictions of robots and their superhuman abilities.
These fictional robots, like Marvin quoted above, can perform human tasks with superior accuracy in fractions of the time it takes mere mortals. Looking around today’s corporate landscape, one might not know we have been quietly invaded by a new generation of robots. Namely, software, written to automate repeatable, mundane human tasks, and referred to as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). And, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view, their capabilities are no longer far-fetched science fiction fantasies. Think of an RPA software robot as a digital employee, one that doesn’t sleep, eat lunch or take holidays.
RPA has created quite a stir recently in terms of the potential impact on real people and their jobs. McKinsey estimates that 49% of time spent on work activities, or the equivalent of 1.1 billion jobs, could be automated using current technology. Forrester predicts that by 2019, “one-quarter of all job tasks will be offloaded to software robots, physical robots, or customer self-service automation.”
What does this all mean for workers and companies who want to thrive and stay competitive?
Here are 5 things you should know about RPA:
1. RPA does not spell doomsday for us mere mortals. Yes, workers and their jobs will be impacted in a major way by RPA. The silver lining in the above referenced McKinsey study is that “only 5% of all jobs can be automated entirely.” This means human workers still have opportunities to move up the value chain and focus more on strategic and value added activities. Take the opportunity and embrace automation as an opportunity to eliminate dull, tedious data gathering and repetitive tasks. Redesign your work flows with the end customer in mind and eliminate as much as you can from the human work stream.
2. Having created some hope for us regular humans above in item 1, remember the ROI for pursuing RPA is still a no-brainer. Most studies suggest that 40-50% of all knowledge worker activity is spent gathering and moving data around. Investing in automation and redeployment of people will not only pay big dividends, but will most likely help your business survive to the next round in a ruthless world of innovative disruption. Engage teams to simultaneously pursue operational excellence and breakthrough technology enabled innovation. What is the solution after next and how can you get there now? You can no longer think and operate sequentially.
3. The best candidate processes for RPA are those that are repeatable, rules based and reliant on structured data. The RPA software can help manage these standard end-to-end processes. Evaluate your business from the top down and identify processes that consume the most time and resources and consider targeting those first.
4. RPA operates at the presentation and UI level and can span multiple systems and applications. There are many new and emerging players in this space. The software is easier to configure than conventional systems. Consider engaging specialists experienced in identifying your requirements and helping you select software and an integration approach that meets your needs. Be careful to assure your software is secure and scalable like any other software you would design or acquire.
5. Whatever you do, do not ignore the people impact. Take the opportunity to define your communication strategy, engage sponsors and advocates, gather feedback, refine the strategy and involve everyone in the positive business case for change. Acknowledge the risks (of taking and not taking action) and reward the results. Research shows that most initiatives failure for lack of focus on people. Rest assured, an effort around automation will only increase your odds of failure if you do not engage in robust organizational change management.
In closing, RPA and related technologies are still in early stages of development and deployment. But don’t be passive and complacent, change continues to accelerate at unprecedented rates. Be ready and be proactive. Use the above as a starting point for moving ahead. Here comes the digital workforce, full speed ahead.
TSI’s expert consultants offer a wide range of services that can help your organization Transform in 2017 and beyond.
See below to learn more about the author, Dan Spaeth. You can also read his January, 2017 article, titled: 3 Quality Metrics You Can’t Ignore.