We all know the saying “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” We are going through one of the toughest times of our generation and the situation requires us to toughen up too. Businesses took a hit when the pandemic struck and had to improvise drastically to cope. Some had to scale down their operations while many others resumed with an almost entirely remote workforce. Only a small fraction of businesses are in a position to say they are highly prepared to deal with the impact according to Gartner’s recent Business Continuity Survey.
Business Continuity in Uncertain Times
This pandemic and the ensuing disruption underline the importance of business continuity planning (BCP). Such a plan is required to secure businesses from unforeseen threats and ensure smooth operations regardless of constraints. BCP is instituted not just to limit the impact but to expedite business recovery post-disaster.
One such technology that allows enterprises to ensure continuity of business operations on a daily basis is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA existed before the coronavirus came into play, but now it is poised to play a bigger role as businesses complying with social distancing norms have to make do with a leaner workforce.
Enabling Business Continuity Through RPA
RPA solutions help achieve business continuity through a centralized platform that allows employees to collaborate remotely. At the core of RPA are software bots that can be used to complete mundane, repetitive tasks like data processing/transfer of data between systems, claims processing, invoice processing, etc., with little or no human intervention. The bots can execute those tasks faster than humans and with fewer errors. They can be self-triggered as well, so there is no need for the bots to have human personnel overlooking them to ensure that they are working as expected.
An amazing thing about RPA is that the entire technology is based on simple “screen scraping” or replicating users’ input patterns with applications. With the integration of Natural Language Processing (NLP), computer vision, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), process mining, etc., the software bots are getting smarter and the results are there for everyone to see.
One major benefit of automation is that it helps save time. Research from Gartner determined that accounting departments can save up to 25,000 hours annually as 30% of the work done by professionals is a result of avoidable rework. This translates roughly to a gain of $878, 000 for an organization having 40 full-time accounting employees. In insurance, quick onboarding and faster time-to-settlement are areas of competitive difference today. This is achieved by automating the manual and time-consuming risk rating, claims registration, and evaluation processes.
RPA also serves business interests by cutting down the cost of human errors. In insurance, hundreds of claims forms are processed every day, which when done by humans are prone to errors that can cost insurers dearly. Automation can cut these costs by as much as 50%. Another area where RPA is more efficient than humans is compliance enforcement and reporting. Given the sheer number of regulations that banks and insurers must comply with and the amount of customer data they collect on an ongoing basis, keeping tabs on compliance without room for error is humanly impossible.
With the infusion of intelligence into simple automation bots, enterprises can tackle complex problems in automation to yield better results. As cloud computing becomes the go-to option, enterprises are dealing with more unstructured data than structured data. With the era of Intelligent Automation, bots can be equipped with cognitive capabilities that can work with these data sets when automating business processes. Intelligent automation has been shown to reduce service desk interaction by 20%. Deloitte’s annual survey on Global Robotics shows how, combining RPA with AI, participants could realize an average increase in revenue of 9% against 3% for those who didn’t combine these two technologies.
Does RPA Mean Fewer Jobs?
Contrary to popular belief, RPA is here to assist humans and not replace them. It liberates employees from mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on higher-value tasks. The advent of computers had raised similar concerns but we know how that turned out. It opened up new avenues, led to new business models, and growth on a scale not possible before. Similarly, RPA will enable us to do what we do best when we are free from cumbersome chores—be creative.
Ideal Candidates for RPA
RPA is hugely popular in some verticals more than others because, naturally, it benefits those that deal with a large number of repetitive tasks. According to Gartner, more than 70% of finance organizations have already tested out RPA or have implemented them in one form or another.
“Automation is good, so long as you know exactly where to put the machine.”Eliyahu Goldratt
Let’s take a look at some of the areas where RPA implementation can bring value.
- Banking and Insurance
- Bank reconciliation processes
- Financial and external reporting
- Receivables management
- Payables management
- Financial closing
- Claims registration and processing
- Patient appointment scheduling
- Clinical data extraction and monitoring
- Discharge instructions
- Accounts processing and claims management
- Self-service terminals
- Patient recruitment for trials
- Trial management
- Clinical and medical writing
- Stock management
- Demand and supply planning
- Authorizing returns and exchanges
- Sales analytics
- Consumer behavior analysis
- Customer service and relationship management
- Human Resources
- Interview scheduling
- Employee onboarding
- Employee data management
- Attendance management
RPA is not just for enterprises. Even small businesses can leverage RPA to keep operations lean with limited resources. And with the capabilities available, they will be able to scale up and compete with major players at a reduced cost associated with hiring new employees.
What the Future Looks Like for RPA
Vendors like UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere are the market leaders in RPA. These companies offer a wide range of automation services for businesses. There are also several exciting and upcoming players like Jiffy, Kryon, Softomotive etc. who are raising the stakes with their own set of offerings.
RPA was on the watchlist of numerous tech companies long before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. As per Gartner, the RPA established itself as one of the fastest-growing markets in 2018 with a growth rate of 68%. Recently, UiPath roped in $225 million as part of their Series E funding, which is now valued at $10.2 billion. IBM acquired the Brazil-based WDG Automation to embed RPA through its portfolio. Contextor SAS was roped in by SAP, Appian by Novayre Solutions. Microsoft acquired Softomotive in March after launching a new version of its RPA platform, Power Automate. This interest of industry giants in RPA indicates that we are on the brink of many exciting developments in this technology.
With the increasing use of cloud services, smaller companies can make use of RPA and intelligent automation as well. According to Gartner, by 2022, 20% of all RPA solutions will be cloud-based and IT and HR departments will be affected by increasing RPA implementation.
Based on what we have seen so far in 2020, we can affirm that RPA is on the rise and here to stay. If, as a business owner, you are looking to test the waters, now is the time to explore your options. You can either build an RPA CoE within your organization or hire a competent service provider to get you started. Either way, it’s time to take the plunge.