Why Robots should enter the Human Workforce
Enterprises have always looked for ways reduce costs while maintaining quality of service. In the past, companies turned to offshoring and outsourcing, with varying degrees of success. In many cases quality was sacrificed.
Today, those cost-cutting measures are giving way to the future of the enterprise: robotics.
Decades ago, robotics transformed the manufacturing industry, and Artificial Intelligence is poised to make a similar impact on business process outsourcing.
The potential is immense. Everything that requires human knowledge work to make a decision is a candidate for autonomics. For example, insurance companies routinely train new agents with manuals and peer-to-peer shadowing.
A robotic system could be trained similarly by absorbing the manual and then “observing” humans, learning from the observation and then proposing the best problem solving methodology. A machine that successfully understands structured and unstructured information could potentially become a virtual insurance claim agent handling end-to-end customer interactions.
But Artificial Intelligence need not necessarily replace people. Instead robotics can empower humans with information to help them make the best informed decisions, even under pressure.
Take mechanical engineers working on an oil rig in the Bering Sea, one of the most hostile environments in the world. Now imagine an Artificial Intelligence technology helping the engineers understand issues, learning from how others have fixed specific situations and assisting with problem-solving.
It is difficult for humans to keep up with the rate of changing information, but machines adapt to change faster and more predictably and can amass and process large sets of data in real time.
The key difference between robotics in manufacturing and business is human interaction. In manufacturing, robotics are a back office function that exist in an isolated environment. Customers don’t see the difference if their cars are built 80 or 90 percent by robots; they only see the final product. AI in business is fundamentally different. These are machines that change the way humans interact with the core service.
In the last decade, we saw an evolution in the way people communicate though technologies such as text messages and social media sites.
In the coming decade, we will see an evolution in how we interface with Artificial Intelligence. Customers need to be comfortable speaking to a robotic system and come to a point where they can’t differentiate whether they’re talking to a machine or a person.
Most AI technologies today interpret sentiments conveyed by words. The next phase is emotional and empathetic modeling so systems can track sentiments by inflection, tone and facial expression and can respond accordingly.
The next decade will be telling. The time scale will be dictated by our adoption of change rather than the technology itself. Very soon we will see AI introduced into the marketplace, first through the enterprise environment. For example, we will likely encounter AI in internal service desks, business to business engagements and business data connectivity services.
It is important to understand that robotics do not compromise processes or sacrifice quality. We are building machines to do justice to human work, and the potential will only increase as we begin to remodel our business processes based on the capabilities of AI.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”