Robotic Process Automation: Should you think twice?
Artificial Intelligence, overwise known as Robotics has been around for quite a few years. Robotics has taken a major role in the manufacturing and materials handling industries. When allied to Artificial Intelligence, it can provide substantial gains in productivity and cost reduction.
However, there have been some concerns expressed about the growing capabilities of AI. Particularly in that at some point, artificial intelligence will overtake human intelligence and reduce humankind to a secondary role. When that happens we will have reached the “Singularity” of self-replicating and self-evolving machines.
Firstly, to define Robotic Process Automation (“RPA”): It is a form of business process automation currently in development. It is based around the concept of software robots and artificial intelligence workers.
It is currently used to mimic human actions, allowing the automation of routine tasks, and is used in the IT industry in the call centre environment to provide automated technical support for common problems.
In IT we have already seen the emergence of self-configuring and self-healing networks. Add, as is currently in development, self-learning to make intelligent Intent-Based networks and you will have networks that need little or no human intervention.
The philosophical discussions around sentience and what actually comprises intelligence and whether artificial intelligence is merely the next logical step in evolution are raging.
The big question in business is whether or not to use artificial intelligence in process automation and deploy it in your business.
Business Strategic Questions
The deployment of RPA is a critical element of business strategy. It gives the opportunity for business growth at little cost, and provide improvements in service levels, but at the cost of affecting the existing workforce to a great extent.
It provides the opportunity to redefine business processes and remove the human factor from them. Policies and rules can be more strictly applied, software robots don’t have off days, need sick leave or vacations. They can work 24/7/365. Productivity can be significantly enhanced.
Businesses can, therefore, choose whether to do more at less cost by replacing human workers with RPA or expand their operations by supplementing human workers with RPA. There is currently a debate about whether RPA will repatriate offshore jobs by effectively removing the need for the cost benefits of low-paid overseas workers.
The conundrum for business is then whether just to reduce the size of the workforce or redeploy and retrain their extra workers into more advanced positions with more interesting work.
That is a philosophical question just as much as a strategic one, though the answer to the philosophical issues will affect the development of the corporate strategy.
At a macro level, the deployment of RPA will have a profound effect on society, in the way we live and in the way we work. A study by Oxford University asserts that over one-third of all jobs may have been replaced by RPA by 2035.
RPA will bring a major sea change to the business cost model. Because the cost of production falls, the price of goods and service can fall. Service levels will rise and the types and range of services offered will increase. People are likely to have more leisure time.
One theory is that the quality of life will improve by increasing mental stimulation and job satisfaction by taking human workers away from the mundane and tedious jobs they often currently do.
RPA or Not
As suggested above the question the business must ask and answer before coming to a decision on RPA is how they integrate RPA into their long-term business strategy:
- Sort-Term Gains. In this option, they reduce their overheads by replacing human workers with RPA. Profit margins increase, assuming no change in pricing strategy. On the downside, there is a negative impact on the corporate reputation and the benefits will only accrue for a limited period.
- Long-Term Strategic growth. RPA is incorporated into the business development strategy, workers are redeployed and retrained to carry out more interesting and potentially more productive tasks. Business reputation improves with the perception of a company that cares for its workers.
- Do Nothing or more politely, wait and see. To answer the question, Should You Think Twice, the answer is certainly yes. Not to choose whether to embrace it or not, but how you should embrace it.