Look around: We are in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, and it’s redefining traditional ways of doing business. Emerging automation technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Robotics Process Automation (RPA), and cognitive computing are creating a seismic shift in the way humans work.
And business leaders are quickly realizing that the only way to stay ahead - or even on par - with the competition is by efficiently harnessing the combined potential of people, process, and technology. Or, put simply, by implementing digital transformations that help them do a lot more with less.
Across every business department, employees are bogged down with repetitive tasks that fail to optimize their skills, time, and talent. The average employee loses about 20 percent of their day to activities that don't add any value to a business. In a transaction-heavy department like Finance, those numbers climb even higher, with a whopping 75 percent of the week consumed by back office operations that simply “keep the lights on.” And in most cases, that’s a conservative number.
Performing that much manual work is plagued by inherent risk, ranging from process delays to boredom among employees that can pave the way for errors. In today’s tight job market, it’s likely to generate high turnover rates as well – especially among Millennials, who generally consider transactional tasks beneath them. When employees are drowning in monotonous tasks like reconciling spreadsheets, they also rarely have the bandwidth to innovate process improvements and other creative ideas that can benefit both the customer and the bottom line.
Enter automation technologies. The future of work involves automating these cumbersome transactional tasks to a digital workforce, making business processes more efficient and cost-effective - and improving the quality of human work by freeing employees to focus on more important tasks. As businesses continue to search for new ways to gain a competitive edge and boost customer and employee loyalty, liberating your talent from the monotonous aspects of their jobs not only increases their engagement, but also enables your organization to extract the most value from skills that are uniquely human such as empathy in customer service and strategic analysis and decision-making.
PwC estimates that nearly half of workplace activities can be automated, and the London School of Economics asserts that businesses can realize ROI of between 600 and 800 percent by automating specific tasks. A Forbes magazine report states that automation can save businesses an average of $4 million annually. By 2024, RPA alone is projected to become a $3.5 billion market in North America.
At the forefront of human-computer innovations is RPA, a digital transformation technology that enables a virtual workforce of “bots” to perform complex, rule-based activities in any company system in the same way a human would – but significantly faster and more cost-effectively. Since machines are more accurate than humans, RPA drastically reduces mistakes as well – and thus, operational risk.
Besides transaction processing, today's RPA technologies are successfully performing such business activities as data entry and replication, email management, periodic reporting and data analysis, invoice processing, IT services, payroll, and much more.
Through the vast amount of RPA initiatives that our firm Auxis has lead, we have found that organizations that implement RPA are realizing average cost savings of 40 percent and productivity improvements of 41 percent. In fact, 70 percent of organizations recover their investment during the first year.
At the same time, the market is also beginning to embrace more fully cognitive digital solutions like AI that build upon RPA’s ability to replicate or streamline processes. These more advanced forms of automation can easily complete higher-order tasks that require more adaptability.
Mention AI and many people instantly picture science fiction dystopias, but the reality is that AI is already commonplace in people’s daily lives, from smartphones to social media feeds. These technologies are infused with the ability to “learn” over time and expand their knowledge base, getting better at what they do the more they do it. Any type of computer software that engages in human-like activities – including learning, planning, and problem-solving – can fall under the umbrella of AI.
Most commonly, companies are relying on AI’s ability to quickly process and analyze vast troves of data - and then deliver it in a clean context that’s easy for humans to digest - to provide insights that lead to better decision-making.
But the applications for AI are endless across business departments, including fraud detection, cybersecurity protections, chatbots for customer service interactions, employee training, and assistance with talent acquisition. Up to 80 percent of customer service interactions can be handled by intelligent automation, for instance, improving the customer experience with faster response times and enabling businesses to slash customer service costs by an average of 30 percent.
Automation is changing the fundamental way employees work, and – in the process – the business workforce of tomorrow. Operational efficiency is a key driver, but the potential the technology offers goes far deeper than cost savings.
A main stumbling block of digital transformation is often resistance to change from end-users – and when it comes to automation, that resistance is often fueled by fear that software robots will replace their jobs and decimate the job market.
It’s true there may be some displacement of jobs as the new reality takes hold. But when the dust settles, workers everywhere will reap the benefits of the new business landscape as new opportunities emerge. Automation will pave the way for employees to be retrained and up-level their skills to perform more strategic duties. It will also enable others to fully embrace the roles they were hired to perform before transactional tasks took over.
A World Economic Forum report estimates that while 75 million jobs may initially be displaced by automation technologies, 133 million new roles will be created – leading to a net of 58 million new jobs on the market by 2022.
A change management strategy that defines clear goals and aligns the process, technology, and people is key to delivering a potentially disruptive implementation like AI or RPA. A poor communication plan can be the Achilles heel to success, leading to a lack of end user buy-in that prevents these solutions from achieving full value.
Workers need to be educated that automation is designed to replace tasks, not people. Companies will always need skills that only human workers can provide, such as creativity, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and innovation. Employees no longer overwhelmed with low-value tasks can spend their time and energy on strategic activities that make them more valuable to the business.
The digital transformation can’t be stopped, and there’s no denying its impact on efficiency, accuracy, and overall productivity levels. For companies to stay ahead of the competition and keep top talent engaged, implementing the right automation technologies is critical to future success. Not only will it free your staff from the repetitive tasks that torpedo productivity, but optimizing the way they work gives them the tools they need to make forward-thinking decisions that lead to optimal business outcomes.
At Auxis, we support organizations through the entire journey, starting as your RPA implementation consultant, all the way to managing and operating RPA for you under our Business Process Outsourcing model.