Businesses can be short-sighted in realising the benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Yes, it can reduce time and cut costs, but neither of these benefits scratch at the surface of the long-term change that the technology can deliver. The true impact of RPA lies in unlocking the full potential of the human workforce and changing the way that organisations think, respond and operate to change.
Businesses are stuck in a chasm, pressured into reaching bigger goals but with fewer resources. They must meet the increasing needs of their customers, who often demand a 24/7 service, but at the same time do so with less budget and fewer resources. This, along with the context of shrinking workforces across much of the globe, means that it’s no surprise that businesses are turning to automation in their droves. Yet RPA is more than just a solution to these issues, it also opens up a range of opportunities for human staff.
Realising the full benefits
A direct result of automating time-consuming, mission-critical process-based tasks that humans often get caught up in, is improved employee engagement. Staff can now take on more fulfilling roles, developing their own skills at the same time as providing something of tangible benefit to the business (i.e. being more responsive to customer inquiries or supporting new services). If managed correctly, this can open up whole new revenue streams for a business, on top of the money and time already saved. This is where the real difference is made.
Yet all too often the benefits and opportunities of RPA are underestimated. Recent research from PwC suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) will create as many jobs as it displaces in the next 20 years. It is estimated that around 7 million existing jobs could be automated, but around 7.2 million could be created, giving the UK a total job boost of around 0.2 million. In particular, the healthcare sector could see a job increase of almost 1 million, which is around 20% of existing jobs in the sector.
Businesses that implement automation will create a workforce where people are reaching their full potential. These new roles will ultimately affect the way businesses work and the impact businesses have on the wider economy. The question is, are humans prepared for this change?
Future-proofing the workforce
Humans must be ready for this shift in working conditions if they are to reap the full benefits of RPA. If robots are to take the admin-based and time-consuming tasks off the hands of staff, then employees must get to grips with the skills required for stepping up to more strategic roles. Businesses will need to shoulder some of the responsibility for educating the next generation of workers with regards to the full impact of automation, the implications it has on their careers, and how to build a skill set to compliment an automated workforce.
Collaboration with educational institutions is a perfect way to influence the future workforce. Partnerships such as that of my own company’s Academia programme with Manchester University, is a prime example of this. The programme encourages computer science students to build RPA projects on a global scale through gaining access to training and educational materials, including an Autonomous Training Kit and the option to deliver a self-guided foundational degree course. Schemes like this will be essential in moulding the workforce that will drive our economies in the future. We cannot just expect the next generation to automatically adapt to a completely new mindset – the industry needs to pave the way.
Businesses need to do more than just accept that job roles are going to change. It’s their responsibility to equip the next generation of workers with a new set of skills that allow them to take on more strategic roles within companies and, in turn, change the way that these businesses operate. We are entering into a new wave of economics where latent human potential is being untapped to great effect. Speculation alone is not enough. As customer demands increase and talent pools shrink, global economies are facing crunch time. Businesses must act now.
About the Author
Colin Redbond is Head of Technology Strategy at Blue Prism. Blue Prism invented the term Robotic Process Automation. Our software platform enables business operations to be agile and cost effective through rapid automation of manual, rules based, back office administrative processes, reducing cost and improving accuracy by creating a “digital workforce”.