Robotic Process Automation heralds a giant leap forward in efficiency for many large organisations, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. Rather than the replacement of human workers, RPA is about humans and bots working in unison, with digital colleagues taking over the repetitive, rules-based tasks, so that humans are freed up for activities which add more value.
Scare stories about robots replacing workers have become a mainstay in the press over the last few years. From headlines predicting that 800 million jobs will be automated by 2030, to lists purporting to show exactly how likely it is that your job will be computerised, to clarion calls from politicians to deal with ‘new forms of exploitation, deeper inequalities, injustices and anger’, it seems that bots are suffering from a serious PR problem. As is always the case with impending change, fear provides a much more powerful narrative than hope. The human brain is hardwired to prefer a certain negative outcome than an uncertain one. But it’s also flexible, adaptive, and therefore capable of thriving amidst change. Which points the way to a future where humans aren’t sidelined by robots, but where humans and bots work in unison, our digital counterparts taking on the parts of the job we don’t want to deal with, freeing us up to concentrate on those value-adding tasks that benefit most from human creativity, intuition and ingenuity.
That’s the future that The Panoply is working towards: our new RPA partner for governments and not for profits, human+, is all about humanising automation to augment the capabilities of the individual and create a world of work that unleashes the full productive potential of every worker.
Automating tasks, not roles
The headline-grabbing ‘800 million jobs’ prediction was from a McKinsey Global Institute study conducted in 2017, but the alarmist headlines miss the nuance. The McKinsey researchers actually determined that just five per cent of jobs worldwide are susceptible to being completely automated with technology that exists today, but that around 50% of work activities are technically automatable by adapting currently demonstrated technologies. This doesn’t help us make any predictions about the far future, but it does indicate that the near future will be one where more and more of the routine, everyday tasks of workers are delegated to software, which can complete those tasks faster, do it around the clock, and handle the mundanity without any fatigue or psychological distress.
That shouldn’t be a totally new idea to anyone who’s been working for a number of years in a job which involves significant amounts of data handling and processing. Improvements in computing power and in the capabilities of individual programmes – such as spreadsheets, CRM systems, email clients and word processors – have made most clerical tasks a lot less onerous than they used to be. But lots of dull, repetitive tasks remain, especially in business functions that revolve around what we used to call ‘paperwork’.
Take Human Resources as an example. In most organisations employee data is stored, managed and processed by multiple disparate systems which don’t talk to each other. Which means whenever there’s a new starter, someone from HR has to create a profile for that person in the HR system, the payroll system, with the pension provider, with facilities management, with the IT department etc. Which might mean entering the same details into multiple webforms, spreadsheets or databases. And while these almost-mindless, yet business-critical activities are carried out, those strategic HR projects that would add real long-term value to the organisation remain on the back burner for want of resource.
At bottom, this is the problem that RPA solves, by implementing a layer of software capable of interacting with any other software system through the same interfaces that a human would use, retrieving, manipulating and processing data quickly and accurately so that the human who used to do it can concentrate on bigger ideas.
Automation which touches every part of the organisation
RPA is not a one-off benefit but a flexible, infinitely-adaptable tool that can be used by end-business users to automate current and future tasks
This week, Notbinary launched our new robotic process automation offering, Human+, which aims to augment human capabilities across the public sector and among arms-length bodies. Imagine a local government body alive to the possibilities of robotic process automation for augmenting the capabilities of their workforce and diverting resources away from repetitive BAU tasks towards tackling bigger strategic challenges.
Such an authority could automate time-gobbling processes across a wide range of functions, including HR, payroll, finance, planning services and Council Tax. Of course, this journey wouldn’t happen overnight. It would necessarily entail a period of education, proving to the major stakeholders that the concept worked through working with them to understand their most urgent needs and then designing, building, testing and deploying a single automated process, before a longer implementation period which identified and automated many more.
RPA projects need to be handled carefully, not just because of the understandable fear that they might inspire in front-line staff, but because they raise serious questions about the impacts on organisational design and resource deployment. But what the organisation would be left with is not a one-off benefit but a flexible, infinitely-adaptable tool that, while governance remains with the IT department, can be used by end business users to automate current and future tasks using simple drag-and-drop interfaces. Which frees them up for tasks which require strategic thinking, emotional intelligence or creativity – things that robots don’t do nearly as well.
Learn more about how your organisation can realise the benefits of RPA, by replacing repetitive and rules-based tasks with automation technology, at human+.