IDC’s Sneha Kapoor says intelligent automation needs process re-engineering. Source: Twitter/UiPath

IDC’s Sneha Kapoor says intelligent automation needs process re-engineering. Source: Twitter/UiPath

RPA in the age of hyper-scale, hyper-performance & hyper-personalization

BUSINESSES love robotic process automation (RPA) because the technology is affordable and simple to deploy, and its returns are easy to quantify.

Back in 2017, IDC forecasted that worldwide spending on RPA software would see a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 49.3 percent over the next five years, and bet that the dollar value of the market at the end of the forecast period in 2022 would be US$3.7 billion.

At the start of 2020, however, with intelligent RPA on the rise, companies seem to be more inclined to accelerate their investment in the technology.

In the banking and financial services industry, IDC sees a lot of players rallying behind intelligent automation, impressed by its many benefits. Tech Wire Asia spoke to the analyst firm’s Research Manager (Financial Insights) Sneha Kapoor to better understand intelligent automation and why it is something businesses should consider.

“[Intelligent RPA essentially comprises of] software robots that can perform both deterministic and non-deterministic tasks by continuously understanding and analyzing structured and unstructured data.

“They represent rules and judgment-based automation, and, like their human counterparts, they are both self-learning and self-healing workers that can discover patterns to predict decisions and even offer recommendations to improve them.”

In comparison, traditional RPA can only automate tasks that are repetitive.

IDC refers to RPA bots as a ‘digital workforce’ because they’re often treated as individual workers, especially in the financial services industry, with unique employee IDs and unique login credentials for business applications.

OCBC Bank (Singapore) in 2017 named its first digital workers “Bob” and “Zac.” Other examples include “Amy” and “Eve” at UOB Bank (Singapore), and “Alex” at AXA Affin General Insurance (Malaysia).

Why intelligent RPA is incredible

Organizations looking to climb the digital maturity curve and accelerate their journey to artificial intelligence (AI) typically find that RPA, and consecutively, intelligent RPA is a step towards that goal.

“RPA has often been cited as the essential first step toward automation, but we believe that it could be more accurately described as part of a continuum of technology-enabled initiatives to bring intelligence into the automation of business processes.

“IDC Financial Insights defines this continuum of technology-based initiatives focused on process automation as the Automation Continuum. This continuum also underscores a notable evolution of demand and capabilities toward an intelligent digital workforce from the rules-based digital workforce.”

For anyone evaluating a move to intelligent RPA, here are two capabilities that immediately stand out:

# 1 | Exception handing

Traditional RPA typically follows the steps that a human takes, repeats them perfectly, to achieve a desired outcome. Any exceptions, however, immediately throw a spanner in the works and cause the RPA script/bot to fail.

With intelligent RPA, however, that doesn’t happen. Intelligent RPA is equipped with cognitive and decision-making capabilities that allow it to handle exceptions with ease.

If a customer deviates from the standard format when inputting their personal details, for example, intelligent RPA can clean the data automatically and avoid any errors.

# 2 | Task v. process automation

Despite the name, traditional RPA allows users to only automate tasks, not entire processes. In order to automate a process, some form of intelligence is needed.

If we consider the overall invoicing process, the act of sending an invoice to a customer by email is a task. The task can be automated by automating a series of steps in the overall process.

However, in order to automate the process, a number of inputs must be collected from a number of different divisions, perhaps some calculations must be performed to determine the credit period and so on, and then, that must all be entered into the system, before an invoice can be generated and sent to a customer.

All of those steps, and all of the exceptions that can arise from those steps, make intelligent RPA a better, more logical, more robust choice.

“Ultimately, intelligent RPA has the potential to deliver meaningful customer support, improved decision making, and valuable customer insights.”

Hyper-scale, hyper-performance, and hyper-personalization

In the banking and financial services space, as well as in sectors such as healthcare and manufacturing, intelligent RPA is being seen as the need of the hour.

“Intelligent RPA, at its core, enables hyper-scale, hyper-performance, and hyper-personalization.

“The technology makes it possible for banks to make customized recommendations to customers who visit a branch or offer insurance policies that are tailored to suit a customer’s needs and risk profile. Intelligent RPA allows for all of this to be done in seconds, and at scale.”

In other industries and sectors, the use cases of intelligent RPA are different, and only limited by the imagination of process owners and business leaders.

IDC’s Kapoor, therefore, believes that organizations must get behind the intelligent RPA bandwagon and actively map their journey to migrate processes effectively. Here are two recommendations she makes to those that hope to give the technology a solid thought in the coming months:

# 1 | Flesh out the automation vision

Organizations have been investing in RPA for more than 24-months now. It’s been a part of the agenda at most digital transformation forums and conferences in recent times, whether in Asia or elsewhere.

The struggle that most organizations face with RPA is when they try to scale their project across the enterprise. That’s when they realize that there was no overall automation vision in place, and hence, are unable to define a strategy.

Given the investment that intelligent automation demands, and the scale at which it must be deployed to truly deliver on promises, a solid automation vision must be put together and fleshed out beforehand.

# 2 | Place a strong emphasis on management sponsorship

Without management backing for an intelligent RPA project, organizations will only be taking a tactical approach and end up wasting valuable resources.

Given the quantum of change that intelligent automation can bring to the workflows of existing staff, the value of management support cannot be emphasized enough.

In order for intelligent RPA to really make an impact on the organization, support and sponsorship of senior business leaders and perhaps even the board is mandatory. They must ultimately encourage staff to embrace the technology — and bring about change, in their daily tasks as well as their mindset.

How to optimize your intelligent RPA deployment

The most valuable piece of advice that IDC’s Kapoor has for organizations looking to get the most out of their RPA solution is this:

“Remember that your digital workforce (aka intelligent RPA solution) is different from your human workforce. Hence, your automation solution must aim to re-engineer your processes, instead of simply mimicking the steps that your human workforce performed.”

The point that Kapoor is trying to make is that people perform tasks based on their own understanding of logic and hence, follow steps that make sense to them.

However, an intelligent system might be able to determine more optimal routes and arrive at the same outcome. Those optimal routes might seem haphazard to the average human brain, but could result in significantly more efficiencies, creating significantly better results for the organization overall.

Of course, deploying intelligent RPA at scale means building in more governance, but ultimately, the net-effect on productivity, efficiency, and overall output are all bound to be positive.