Artificial intelligence and robotics seem to be getting all the attention in discussions surrounding the future of work, but there’s another side to the coin. And one that could prove similarly transformative, if utilised correctly. Robotic process automation (RPA) can take on workers’ prosaic, mundane tasks – say, generating invoices, organising spreadsheets or gathering data – with higher accuracy and in greater volumes.
What’s the deal with RPA?
There’s a heap of applications for private equity (PE), as an expert in AI and robotics outlines. “These tools can enhance operational efficiency in any particular PE/VC funds by automating tasks such as data entry, data collection, communication of data across internal and external stakeholders, passing a deal information on from one associate to everyone else on the investment team, and relaying that eventually to the investment committee generating reports. And, both for internal purposes, record keeping purposes as well as for compliance when a deal comes in.”
Let’s take a look at how one company, Royal Bank of Canada, used RPA. By giving software certain tasks, it saved 153,000 hours of direct manual work and saved around 18,000 hours spent correcting errors. With one of the tasks taken over, the bots spent 10 minutes doing what previously took six hours.
You could pessimistically say that this is eroding employment, and while that’s certainly going to be the case to some extent, depending on the organisation, it still does open up new opportunities.
Some analysts believe that greater automation will simply shift people away from administrative drudgery. “RPA [will] really kind of [be] able to get rid of a lot of the manual tasks that workers have to deal with that isn't, you know, they're easy to do, but they're time consuming and it's not a good value add, given the skills that that employee has,” Akshat Padmanabha comments. Alternatively, it could allow start-ups to run with a lean staff model, eschewing those kinds of roles in the first place.
It's all in the how
As with any technology, it is about the way RPA is implemented that will signal its success. In general, companies are simply not good at implementing any technology. Boston Consulting Group found that 70% of digital transformation efforts do not meet their targets. Another study, by McKinsey-Oxford, revealed that IT initiatives go so badly around 17% of the time, they threaten a company’s very existence. While this sounds dramatic, gargantuan overspending on poorly fitting technology can leave companies vulnerable in the long term – and seems to be worryingly commonplace.
However, if companies can get this right, starting small or working with consultants to find the right fit, RPA stands to open up a world of new possibilities for their workers.
*The expert insights for this article were collected via video using ArbolusCanopy.
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