Adrian van der Merwe, CEO of North Wind Digital, unpacks trends to watch out for in Robotic Process Automation in 2020.
Everyone is talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), but we’re finding that there’s still a lack of knowledge and understanding of what it actually is – and what it means for business. This tech is something of a silver bullet that is set to kill off a number of jobs – solving for a host of needs in various industries, but with a very real knock-on effect for the people that the technology will replace.
The average boardroom actually lacks 4IR general knowledge to reap the benefits of employing 4IR tech. It’s not just down to the CIO to understand the nuts and bolts – the entire leadership needs to understand what 4IR entails for both the present and the future of the business. The lack of understanding is one of the reasons that the market has been slow to adopt automation – but that’s set to change in 2020.
Having said that, there are companies which have seen the potential benefits and wholeheartedly embraced automation. They’ve already been through an entire implementation lifecycle and come out the other side realising that they’ve goverened their automation processes like they would have an IT system – and now it’s become inflexible.
This is a conundrum because one of the benefits of automation is supposed to be flexibility – you employ people for their ability to be flexible, so you expect systems which are designed to make their lives easier, to be flexible as well. The challenge is implementing flexible automation that is responsive to the changing needs of a business, without over governing. These early adopters are grappling with the problem of how to become agile again. On the up side, those who are only considering implementing automated processes now, have a plethora of data to draw on, thanks to those early adopters – which can only help accelerate the curve of acceptance.
Many software vendors have woken up to the fact that automation platforms have come in and bridged the gap between their software and other systems – and they don’t like the idea that this has made their software seem more a necessary evil than a necessity. They’ve started building bot capabilities into their core systems to help add value, which is actually great for the industry.
Look at ERP systems – they are required to manage scale, but they’re seen as a necessity rather than a tool that changes the way a company does business. Automation, AI and machine learning are the tools which aid that change – so to see them becoming a fundamental part of the base software, is hugely encouraging.
Oddly enough, consumers are more accepting of bots than companies are. Consumers readily adopt automation in processes on things like their smartphones, because there are immediate time-saving benefits. From a corporate perspective, there’s a resistance to ‘handing over’ processes that can actually be automated to deliver great benefits to the company. That’s probably down to the fact that consumers see it as a time-saver, while a company sees it as a cost in terms of a job being made redundant.
What companies need to realise is that the very benefits their people see in terms of time-saving and ease, in their personal interactions with technology, are a micro-scale example of what is possible within the enterprise – and embracing that can have myriad benefits for the company, when applied at much larger scale.
RPA, AI and Machine Learning Come Together
The ease of use of AI and Machine Learning means that anyone with a good data scientist can actually start using the tech to improve their processes – but when you combine those two with RPA (Robotic Process Automation), you can do so much more, so much quicker.
Within our own business, we’re seeing the benefit of the combination of these three technologies to deliver IA – Intelligent Accounting. The combination is enabling accountants to lift more than their bodyweight in terms of work. Automated Accounting is also possible with an increased adoption of the tech, with the result being the delivery of business and industry insights which weren’t available before.
The massive trend for 2020 is companies discovering how they can fit these three tech jigsaw pieces together to deliver maximum benefit. The power lies in the flexibility of the tech – we can now demonstrate the benefits of an automated process within days, at a fraction of the cost of an entire systemic overhaul.