Teaching – and Talking to – Robots: The Benefits of Cognitive-Enabled RPA

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools are being widely adopted across a wide range of enterprises and industries. By executing narrowly defined, repeatable tasks, RPA bots can drive dramatic productivity increases and significant cost reductions. For as little as $10,000 to $15,000 a year to deploy and maintain, a single bot can perform the routine, administrative tasks of five to ten people.

RPA is being applied to a wide range of generic business processes related to Finance and Accounting, such as order management and invoice processing, as well as HR functions such as payroll and pension management. In additon, RPA bots are being deployed for industry-specific tasks such as credit card and loan processing in financial servcies, claims processing in insurance and third-party administration in healthcare.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, RPA is not just for “simple” tasks; indeed, the technology is ideally suited to convoluted workflow processes that are both labor-intensive as well as highly prone to human error. For example, in a large, complex environment, account reconciliation can be a painful undertaking that involves rigorous compliance standards and multiple steps to match and verify numbers and records. When people are in charge, they invariably get sloppy or take shortcuts. Robots, meanwhile, aren’t smart enough to cut corners; instead, they follow the directions they’re given to the letter, ensuring accuracy and compliance.

Cognitive Capabilities

Benefits notwithstanding, traditional RPA systems have several major drawbacks. For one thing, the bots can’t handle anomalies or learn from experience. If the steps they’ve been instructed to follow don’t align with the reality of the function they’re working on, they can’t devise a solution. Rather, they report the anomaly as an exception that requires human intervention. This results in a productivity gap for shared services operations managing large volumes of unstructured data, because standard bots can’t navigate the nuances involved in, for example, email requests.

Today, self-learning applications are enabling bots to quickly identify a mistake and apply a fix, without requiring a rewrite of the bot’s instructions. When an exception arises, the cognitive tool flags the exception. And when that exception is fixed by a human administrator, the bot captures the fix and applies it going forward. As a result, the tasks of updating and optimizing RPA tools are significantly streamlined. Over time the expertise of these “cognitive bots” can match that of an operation’s top agents.

Natural language processing tools, meanwhile, analyze the context of words and phrases, enabling business users with minimal technical training to interact with RPA systems by using plain English commands. For example, a user from an accounting department can simply type, “I need to create a cost center for the marketing team,” and the robot understands what’s needed and executes the task. If the request is worded differently, such as, “Create a cost center for marketing,” the robot responds.

By simplifying and speeding the process of updating and reconfiguring RPA tools, integrating cognitive capabilities into basic RPA functionality reduces the need for constant intervention and oversight by technical experts. Given the scarcity of that technical talent in today’s market, smart tools can significantly reduce the productivity-sapping bottlenecks that characterize many RPA initiatives.

Optimizing BPO Capabilities

Cognitive-enabled RPA initiatives extend the benefits of automation and drive additional cost savings and increases in productivity. Equally important, by applying smart tools to continually optimize the automation of routine tasks, enterprises can focus their energies on strategic decision-making and on enhancing their shared services and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) capabilities.

One characteristic of this strategic mindset is the ability to effectively deploy Agile methodologies that leverage collaboration between technology teams and business users – collaboration that is essential to reaping the full benefits of RPA. In addition, enterprises can focus on process optimization and identifying new opportunities to drive intelligent automation. Finally, a mature BPO strategy includes an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) to enable oversight of the overall automation strategy, prioritize initiatives, manage organizational change and serve as a focal point of innovation.

RPA has had a dramatic impact on the ability of organizations to reduce costs and increase productivity in managing basic business processes. As the integration of RPA and smart tools continues to evolve, smart enterprises will seize the opportunity and leverage these emerging capabilities to fundamentally redefine their approach to managing business processes.

Source: futureofsourcing.com-Teaching – and Talking to – Robots: The Benefits of Cognitive-Enabled RPA

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RPA Is a Bigger Threat to White Collar Jobs Than Artificial Intelligence

Independent analyst firm, rpa2ai has released RPA50™, the first in a series of in-depth research reports on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA50™ is the industry’s most comprehensive listing of RPA vendors to-date.

The RPA50™ infographic lists the top 50 global vendors within the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) marketplace. It also identifies eight different vendor categories and provides guidance on when to consider which category of vendors.

In addition to vendor summaries, the research analyzes the RPA ecosystem and marketplace development, examines the impact of RPA, highlights implementation challenges and the role of professional services.

Key research findings include:

  • RPA has a greater potential to significantly automate and change the work of millions of white collar professionals than Artificial Intelligence (AI).
  • The RPA marketplace is attracting a significant amount of venture capital investment, enterprise attention and employee anxiety.
  • While it can be an effective way to improve efficiencies and processes, RPA is regularly mis-sold as Machine Learning (ML) or Artificial Intelligence enabled. In reality, most RPA products have little to no ML or AI capabilities.
  • RPA products vary widely in their provenance, functionality, architecture, deployment options and geographic footprint. One size does not fit all.
  • Business buyers are often avoiding and not involving IT in their decision making processes – resulting in failed implementations.

Analyst Quotes:

“The RPA market is witnessing hypergrowth and enterprise expectations are sky high, so some degree of short-term disappointment is natural,” notes rpa2ai Founder and Chief Analyst, Kashyap Kompella, “but as the technology matures, RPA can change the global services landscape and impact a number of white collar jobs.”

“Enterprise systems and applications rarely talk well with each other,” adds analyst, Apoorv Durga, “so, there is a serious need for software like RPA that can automate repetitive re-keying and other manual tasks. But don’t forget that technology is only one aspect of an enterprise automation strategy.”

“RPA is more of art, than science today,” says Alan Pelz-Sharpe, strategic advisor to rpa2ai, and adds, “aspects such as differing cultures, current state and the tech stacks can be major drivers for success of RPA initiatives.

Source: PRNewswire-RPA Is a Bigger Threat to White Collar Jobs Than Artificial Intelligence

Will Robotic Process Automation Bring Down The Curtain On Outsourcing?

If there is one area that Robotics Process Outsourcing affected widely is near and offshore jobs. Robotic process automation (RPA) is applied to a variety of business processes by automating rule-based monotonous tasks and bridging temporary gaps. Basically, the RPA engines are loaded with highly-specific process knowledge which enables rules-based automation. Today, robotics lifecycle is automating almost half the traditional back-office functions which are being augmented with automation and are offsetting the cost of locations, noted a Deloitte Financial Services paper. So far, the early stages of adoption have shown businesses great benefits. According to recent statistics, robotic automation market will reach $4.98 billion globally and is forecasted to grow at a rate of 60.5 percent.

Some of the key functions that robots follow are:

  • Gather, validate and analyse structured and unstructured data
  • Record and transport information and data
  • Communicate effectively with users, clients and customers
  • Learn, anticipate and forecast the behaviour outcomes effectively

So, how is RPA a threat to the BPO industry? A Sage Intaact blog indicates that RPA has the potential to make many outsourcing relationships obsolete. According to the top four accounting organisations, the costs savings of RPA over outsourcing are around 70 percent. Along with the cost-saving factor, RPA also gives organisations complete control over the automation process, can be scaled to suit demand, simplifies communication and delivers accuracy for rule-based tasks.

Do BPO companies and teams fear the onslaught of RPA? The fears are largely exaggerated and Tom Davenport of MIT Center for Digital Business and Deloitte Analytics says that automating types of tasks with a machine may not be earth-shattering, but the early adopters of RPA do seem to have generally achieved some impressive returns on investment. Citing an example, he emphasised in a blog post as to how one telecom company that automated 160 different processes, achieved an ROI that ranged between 650 percent and 800 percent.

  • According to Davenport, the processes that were structured and codifiable enough to move to services outsourcers are the same ones that will be automated.
  • Many outsourcers have realised this and now offer either their own proprietary RPA solutions or “white-labelled” versions from other vendors.
  • Currently, business processes that show a high degree of knowledge and expertise, from radiology to legal document review, are already being partially automated.

Will Cognitive Automation Spell The Doom For Outsourcing?

Which brings us back to the question — will automation kill the era of outsourcing and what kind of impact it will have on the labour market? Davenport revealed that all automation systems require human involvement in the form of configuration, oversight and maintenance. Also, the role of outsourcers will change in the future where they will have to go beyond mere labour arbitrage. Outsourcing companies will have to provide a range of automation technologies and reskill process and technology experts. Here’s how Davenport puts it — the mere fact that human involvement is required at every stage of the process for cognitive automation indicates RPAs will not make the vast majority of human functions obsolete.

RPAs Won’t Affect Outsourcing

Even though BPOs will become less profitable in the future, the technological advancement of cognitive automation will converge, mature and will be augmented by humans. The question that most outsourcing companies are grappling with today is to what extent will this affect the business of offshoring. On the upside, RPAs will enable companies to achieve unparalleled levels of process accuracy and efficiency and at the same lower the cost as compared to the work that can be done by human employees.

In addition to this, RPAs can effectively provide activity logs and evidence of how decisions were made, ensuring they meet auditing requirements. Besides, the trend will not just affect a few sectors but will be a global employment and economic trends. In terms of India, where outsourcing is one of the biggest sources of employment in India, this will affect the labour outcome.

A research report from KPMG’s Cliff Justice highlighted the shift to RPA is a double-edged sword. It will not only digitise labour with advanced machine intelligence, big data, analytics, mobile technologies and cloud computing, but also hugely impact the knowledge worker labour market. However, a section of economists suggests that RPAs will impact the labour market positively by expanding the job market and created new roles.

Source: analyticsindiamag.com-Will Robotic Process Automation Bring Down The Curtain On Outsourcing?

Gearing Up for the Fifth Industrial Revolution – a Glass Half Full

Two years ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Future of Jobs report – exploring employment, skills and workforces in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This sparked debate – and growing concern – around a changing global employment landscape as the result of disruptive technologies, studded with widening skill gaps, new jobs and job displacement.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution, combined with other socio-economic and demographic changes, will transform labour markets in the next five years, leading to a net loss of over 5 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies.”

Recently, at a London-based robotics event, attendees were asked the same question that the WEF did: did your job exist when you were in primary school? The 67% ‘no’ response was hardly a surprise – the job landscape is evolving constantly, so it’s naïve to expect to be on a career path set during our early school years.

Headlines of this type are often strongly associated with ideas of robots replacing humans in every profession – although clearly there are always roles more suited to humans and their capacity for empathy. But rather than accepting this pessimism as truth, let’s embrace the new generation of jobs that automation will offer us.

We grumble at the fact that our current careers may not have been mapped out for us at infant school, instead of celebrating the fact that we somehow emerged prepared for the jobs we have today. To ease our fear, it might help to recognise that tomorrow’s workforce is more than capable of taking the same path if we guide them wisely: the fact that government is now backing education initiatives that will support children in their future professional lives is a leap in the right direction.

Last year, a group of liberated educators took steps to evolve the curriculum so that children are prepared for a future with automation – the creation of new qualifications and courses dedicated to human centric skills such as leadership and collaboration was evidence of this.

It’s refreshing to hear that 2018 is set to see government beginning to back educational initiatives with cyber skills training; hopefully the next step is more government funding surrounding training for the jobs students will need in the age of increasing automation.

In addition, we’ll need to address the current gap of skills needed for robotics and Artifical Intelligence (AI) by investing in software development, systems design, engineering, programming and data science amongst other areas, to ensure workforces of today – and tomorrow – are skilled to take charge in the robotics world. Taking into consideration the hole in numbers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects currently in university, we have a five-year lag in students moving into this area.

It’s time for government to get smarter when it comes to incentivising students in this direction – this doesn’t necessarily require radical thinking. How about reducing tuition fees for STEM subjects as a start, and creating conversion routes from other subjects?

Until then, we must focus on educating students in a way that will help them collaborate with AI in the years to come. The essence of roles that will be filled by children currently in primary school will be their humanity. Curriculum must continue evolving so that the members of the future’s workforce leave school with skills that focus on adaptability, collaboration and resilience. Instead of focusing only on the retention of facts, it’s time to teach how to question these facts.

If we can build on current momentum and continue to bridge the gaps to encourage new ‘age of automation’ careers, headlines in 2018 and beyond might look more optimistic, pointing towards a future where robots and humans work collaboratively to deliver improved services and bright new opportunities. It’s up to us to decide how full – or empty – the glass looks when it comes to the future of jobs.

Source: futureofsourcing.com Gearing Up for the Fifth Industrial Revolution – a Glass Half Full

Cashing in on the Future

A financial incentive is a key driver for new business initiatives and investments. Future of Work technologies have a lot of potential to reduce costs, but they also have many additional benefits, called non-cashable benefits. Despite their name, it is possible to drive additional revenues through these to maximize the gross profit.

RPA vs Outsourcing

Today, Robotic Processing Automation (RPA) is one of the most mature Future of Work technologies. It is great for managing rules-based, data-heavy and repetitive tasks and integrates with existing systems – even legacy applications, without the need for a drastic overhaul. A conservative industry estimate is that an RPA robot costs one-third of an offshore employee and one-ninth of an in-house employee. RPA can also process many routine tasks faster and more accurately than most humans, allowing for significant reductions in overhead/FTE costs.

We have found that the typical ROI for RPA is between 300-800% over 5 years, with an average payback point achieved in under 18 months. The savings are not always back-loaded – in some cases of drastic process optimization, we have seen returns within as little as four months.

While BPO has helped many businesses achieve savings in the past decades, there are several underlying flaws with the offshoring model. For instance, it moves work to cheaper locations across the globe, resulting in work that is disconnected from the in-house processes (as discussed in the previous blog). Aside from this potential inefficiency, there is a high rate of attrition (offshoring roles traditionally have high growth and low salary), as the offshore labor market has become saturated over the years. So, while it may have started off as a cheap solution for most businesses, it tends to not remain economical due to increasing operational tensions, competitive labor markets and high inflation rates.

Who is Losing Out?

When there are larger costs for your resourcing solutions, it is the customer and employees who ultimately take the biggest loss. While labor arbitrage through offshoring may generate net savings, customers tend to suffer from lower-quality or less responsive services. This is an inherent trade-off to moving work hundreds of miles away. Additionally, employees tend to encounter issues with miscommunication, which can lower the quality of employment satisfaction. This is where a comparison between existing outsourcing models and RPA comes into the spotlight. Labor arbitrage through RPA tends to generate even larger savings, but without the bulk of the downsides listed above. In fact, RPA is increasingly recognized for the non-cashable opportunities it provides to a business.

Cashing in on the Non-Cashable Benefits

We like to represent the benefits of RPA under Mary Lacity’s “Triple Win” model. Automating processes that consist of routine, manual tasks can benefit not only the company, but also the employees and customers. The following are some examples of the common benefits we’ve seen among our clients:

Company

  • The economics of RPA means that you are guaranteed to get hours back to your business. Time spent doing repetitive tasks can now be shaved off or dedicated to more valuable work.
  • Processes done by robots are always more accurate and faster than those done by humans. This provides a competitive advantage and improved output quantity and quality.

Employee

  • RPA takes the robot out of the human, so employees can look forward to more enjoyable and purposeful work
  • Employees learn new skills such as administrating robot workforces or working alongside assisted automation

Customer

  • Optimized workflows translate to faster turnaround times and improved service quality for customers. We often see improved customer satisfaction levels from RPA
  • Customers also enjoy service consistency and round-the-clock availability

Summary

High cash benefits are possible not only through the large ROI of Future of Work technologies like RPA, but also indirectly through non-cashable benefits. The benefits far outweigh those seen in traditional outsourcing models and provide promising solutions for both the business and the customer. These non-cashable benefits may be more difficult to quantify, but can ultimately make a significant business impact.

Source: blog.symphonyhq.com -Cashing in on the Future

IT service automation: A global CIO learns from a millennial

This is the first installment in a series on IT service automation by Pink Elephant expert Jan-Willem Middelburg. The series follows the journey of a fictional global CIO as he realizes that his well-regarded IT organization must radically change the way it delivers IT services. The first chapter below, “Dear CIO, are you ready for the self-service generation?” describes the encounter that sets the CIO on his quest.

It is 9 p.m. and you are staring out the boardroom window across the millions of lights of the city. You are looking back on a day packed with meetings… again. In the morning, you met with the IT steering committee, the risk auditors and the CFO. Your afternoon was filled with your deputy CIOs, each fighting to receive a portion of next year’s budget. It is that time of year again.

As you pack your briefcase and start toward the elevators, you notice the intern still working away. A typical millennial with the latest headphones and a million devices scattered across his desk. The guy was “lucky” to have been chosen out of hundreds of applicants for the summer internship at the CIO Office and, so far, he has been a tremendous asset to your team. The speed and agility with which he can complete complex analyses has frequently surprised you, and you have already decided that you will probably hire him after the summer. You look at your watch and decide it is time to send him home.

You walk over to his office and slowly tap against his screen. The intern lowers his headphones and immediately sits up straight, realizing the global CIO is addressing him. “Tomorrow’s a new day, time to go home,” you hear yourself mutter and the intern immediately looks at his watch, which lights up as he turns his wrist. The intern presses some last buttons on his machine and accompanies you to the elevators.

As you ride the elevator, the silence is uncomfortable, and you start some small talk: “Having a late dinner with your girlfriend tonight?” The intern quickly looks at his phone and replies with a smile: “Dinner should be at my friend’s house in 28 minutes,” he answers. “My girlfriend is staying at her parents this week to finish the paper for her online degree, so we decided it’s better to Airbnb our place for the week.” When the elevator door slides open, you keep wondering what the guy next to you just said.

Right there, at the parking lot in the pouring rain, you realize that you need to make your enterprise ready for the self-service generation. Not just for the young intern who grew up with technology, but for your customers who will also expect the services of your company to be available immediately and with the push of one button.

When you reach the main entrance, you see that it is raining cats and dogs. Your car is parked in one of the executive parking spaces only a few yards away, but you see that even the small distance will get your suit soaked. At the same moment, a small car pulls up at the entrance and the intern opens the door to the back seat. You suddenly realize that the guy already booked an Uber while he was closing his computer upstairs. There’s no thunder as you run for your car, but you feel like you’ve been struck by lightning.

As the intern steps into the Uber, you ask one more question: “Do you still ever call anyone?”

The intern replies: “Just my parents; they are very traditional. Have a great night, boss!”

Right there, at the parking lot in the pouring rain, you realize that you need to make your enterprise ready for the self-service generation. Not just for the young intern who grew up with technology, but for your customers who will also expect the services of your company to be available immediately and with the push of one button.

From service management to IT service automation

The next morning you wake up energized. You order an Uber to take you to work, and whilst you are in the backseat of the car, you reflect on the situation with the intern from last night. Everywhere in the world, new service providers are popping out of the ground with “disruptive” business models. Spotify, Uber, Booking.com and Netflix are some of the main examples that everybody is talking about. They are able to attract massive groups of users and — like the intern — many people like to use these services, because they are instantly available with the click of one app or similar interface.

As you think about this a little more, you wonder what would happen if you could make the services in your organization available in a similar way with IT service automation. What if your employees could select their IT services by themselves and order them as easily as booking a rideshare service? Is provisioning a test server really so much different from booking a driver?

For years, you have worked really hard to achieve operational excellence of all global IT services. Your service catalogue is well-defined and you have consistently managed to reach the targets of your service level agreements (you became CIO for a reason…). You have a very effective and efficient Service Desk that delivers services all over the globe with high satisfaction levels. So, what is the difference between your organization’s services and the services your intern likes to use?

In a traditional service model, the user interacts with the service provider at every step, from request and proposal through paying the invoice and sending feedback. In the automated service provider model, the self-service portal — a technology layer — automates many or all of the steps.

As your Uber drives into the parking lot of your office, and your driver swipes that he has completed his ride, you suddenly realize the difference: The services your organization offers are control-oriented and frequently include manual steps. The services Spotify, Uber, Booking.com and Netflix are offering are user-oriented and completely automated.

Source: searchcio.techtarget.com-IT service automation: A global CIO learns from a millennial

The Robots are Coming – Should You Fear or Welcome Them

How does your enterprise compare with peers?

A few weeks back, we opened our Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Pinnacle Model study to enterprises to compare their RPA adoption performances head-to-head. Everest Group Pinnacle ModelTM assessments are unique in that they correlate quantified outcomes and capabilities with a special spotlight on the Pinnacle Enterprises that are outperforming their peers. As part of the study process, we also interview select participants to gather qualitative information about these same enterprises.

Having completed a number of these interviews and looking at some of the early tabulations from those have completed the RPA adoption survey, I’m sharing some of my early thoughts below.

Four thoughts on our RPA Pinnacle Enterprise survey results

  • The robots are truly coming, but the fears about the impact on jobs is way overblown – it is clear from our conversations that RPA is going to have an impact in many different parts of the organization, including both front office and back office, but the number of jobs being impacted is not going to be the primary value proposition. Yes, cost take out will be part of the equation, but it is highly likely it will impact slices of jobs and/or departments that will allow for those employees to be transitioned to higher-value tasks.
  • Improving the job for employees – One of the clear messages that we have heard so far is that employees are embracing RPA. In fact, the branding of these initiatives is about getting rid of the worst tasks of their current jobs and includes names like “Smart Automation” and “We Innovate.” In fact, many of these employees are already implementing their own home automations like Nest, Alexa, Google, Rachio, etc. and are becoming quite comfortable with these quality of life improvements automations. One of the enterprises we spoke with actually talked about seeing improvements in their employee retention rates when they were included in these initiatives and allowed to improve their own jobs. However, change management has not been “easy,” and companies have adopted various ways to create awareness about the benefits of RPA and how employees can use it to be more effective in their jobs. Some of the examples of approaches include workshops, training programs, newsletters, project of the year, and hackathons.
  • The real skirmish is between the business units and IT for ownership – one of the interesting aspects of this analysis is to see where the study participants reside in their organizations. In the conversations, it becomes apparent the business is the one driving the conversation and IT has been the reluctant partner. But I got the sense this was changing pretty quickly, and IT was beginning to see the light that they have to be part of these implementations for a variety of reasons. Also, organizations have internally gone through a debate as to whether to approach this is an IT project or a business process redesign. We will be interested in hearing how your organization is thinking about this. Participate in the study.
  • We are just getting started – we can see it in the data and with our conversations, enterprises are running multiple RPA initiatives and projects are spread across RPA implementation stages. At least 65% of respondents are in the process of scaling up their RPA efforts or running steady-state automations. However, the majority of enterprises are still in their rookie year when it comes to setting up RPA CoEs (or expanding existing automation CoEs). The implications is that the initial proof of concepts projects are seeing enough promise that formal teams are being stood up to begin the scaling process.

Source:  everestgrp.com-The Robots are Coming – Should You Fear or Welcome Them