Automation Is About More Than Saving Money

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With the working population shrinking as the population ages, there will be fewer people doing more work. And that means automating more tasks will become the norm. I spoke with Blue Prism's Alistair Bathgate about this as we looked into the world of Robotic Process Automation.

Bathgate is the CEO of Blue Prism. The company has created a software class dubbed Robotic Process Automation (RPA). He likens RPA to an electronic piano that is programmed to move the keys and play music - it's about using software robots.

"It logs on, and orchestrates and interacts with the systems autonomously in exactly the same ways a user would," he explained. "It's more like training robots than writing code".

This differs from traditional automation and orchestration because it is business-led he said. Business people train the robots rather than relying on technical resources from the IT team to write code to program the robots.

According to Bathgate creating the robots was a challenge but the hardest part was making the system accessible and friendly for business users to operate.

However, in order to ensure there isn't an explosion of automation that creates issues within systems, Bathgate said there are controls in place so the business can work with the IT team as well as robotics deployment and governance model that supports the use of RPA in a efficacious way.

Blue Prism's RPA software is used in banks, healthcare providers and insurance companies across the world.

One of the benefits of this approach, said Bathgate, is that the systems can be scaled up easily. So, as workloads increase the ability for the user-created robots to absorb increased workloads is limited only by compute capacity - something that can easily scaled to accomodate the shifting workloads.

The benefits of RPA, said Bathgate, go beyond just reducing the number of people needed to complete the work that is required. For example, European mobile network operator Telefonica has employed Blue Prism's solution to massively improve customer service.

In the UK, Telefonica operates the Orange mobile phone network. In the past, when a customer requested a SIM card swap, such as when they upgraded their phone, the process to activate the card could take up to 24 hours. This was because the backoffice processes required significant input from people.

However, once the business-led RPA was applied, customers could leave the store with a new, working SIM rather than the promise that the SIM would be active within 24 hours.

With regulatory obligations and compliance with rules becoming increasingly complex and prevalent, RPA also delivers a consistent process and outcome that can be audited and amended as rules change.

Another application of RPA came from a major bank. Bathgate said that the time between when a credit card was reported lost or stolen in a bank until it was deactivated was around 25 minutes as there were a number of systems and authorities that needed to be notified. That time that could be used by a thief to steal funds.

"That 25 minute process was delegated to a virtual backoffice or digital employee that has freed the agent to be six times more productive".

A bank in New Zealand was able to take an existing six-day process for rejected transactions and shortened it to 11 minutes, added Bathgate.

A recent survey undertaken by Infosys found 40% of 16-to 25-year-olds think their current jobs will be replaced by some form of automation within the next decade. So, are jobs under threat?

Bathgate said first world economies are suffering from shrinking work forces as populations age. As a result, productivity is, potentially, under threat. He says there are two main ways this can be overcome; automation and immigration.

But with immigration becoming increasingly unpopular politically - he noted this was particularly so in "Donald Trump's America and Teresa May's UK" and the world's third largest economy, Japan, not having high levels of immigration that automation will be part of the answer.

The said there is a "global, macro-economic argument for automation".

In Bathgate's dealings with clients, he has not seen jobs lost when RPA or other automation technologies are introduced. Rather, people are redeployed to other tasks. In particular, as regulatory and compliance obligation become more onerous, he has seen many people move into those roles.

One of the most often used reasons for using automation technologies such as RPA is cost reduction. But Bathgate says this is not the ideal lens with which to make decisions about auto=tomation. One of the biggest benefits, he said, comes from reduced error rates.

One Saudi bank where Bathgate deployed the Blue Prism solution saw a 70% reduction in flaws across 1.5 million transactions.

"Robots are faster, more accurate, more compliant," he said.

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