According to Deloitte 35% of the workforce in London is at risk from automation within the next 20 years due to the increase of Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
Hailed as the first step towards artificial intelligence, RPA – or bots as they are otherwise known – are able to do highly repetitive tasks in processes, potentially freeing up the workforce to do stuff that matters.
Bringing in the Bot
The use of bots has increased rapidly in the last three years with many major corporations starting to integrate RPA solutions into their IT ecosystems. Banking, Insurance, Transport, Healthcare and Telecoms are but a few sectors that use RPA today.
With a bot costing 1/3 of an FTE (Full Time Equivalent) and working 24/7 with no errors, we expect a large proportion of processes to be automated, both in the front and back office.
An example of a RPA bot is check-in kiosks in hospitals and in the healthcare sector. You walk up, chose language, type in your name and date of birth. The kiosk is connected to the patient register and scans your details. You receive a message to go and take a seat and wait your turn.
So no more waiting in a queue for the administrator behind the desk to log on, find your details, check your date of birth while simultaneously answering the phone. The administrator can now turn their attention to more important or exceptional activities, rather than check your name and date of birth.
The process of an RPA implementation
When an organization chooses to introduce RPA it must consider the time and the cost. Sponsorship from the top – the COO, CFO or CTO – is of essence and employee involvement is crucial throughout all activities, like in any change management project.
A normal project would consist of four stages, each with distinct deliverables and activities. It is important to work out the Critical Success Factors and KPIs before embarking on a project of this magnitude. It is recommended to start small and scale up.
The whole idea behind business process automation is that employees themselves discuss, describe and draw the processes to be automated. E.g. an order process or a process that takes incoming customer complaints via email and feeds it to an SAP system. In short any repetitive, non-value adding process, freeing up the workforce to concentrate on the fun stuff, the value add. When the bot is introduced, it will go through iterations until it works.
Below are examples of organizations that have introduced bots into some of their processes.
The future for RPA
Although RPA has been spoken of as a concept since 2001, it is only in the last couple of years that the market has seen deployed solutions.
The next step is autonomic platforms and it is not long before we will see these introduced in the market place on a wide scale. For now, RPA will continue to revolutionize the workplace, letting employees concentrate on value-adding, fun activities while leaving the boring stuff to the bots!
 London Futures: Agiletown: the relentless march of technology and London’s response. 2014. Deloitte Insight. Available at www.blueprism
 Referred to as Workflow Automation. See Stohr, E.A. & Zhao, J.L. Information Systems Frontiers (2001) 3:281
Richard Ahl PhD is Program Manager at Clancarty Consulting Ltd based in London