View from India: Productivity blues? Try Intelligent Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which has been around for almost two decades, has been processing information in the digital form. Now it combines with artificial intelligence (AI) to perform various tasks

All along, AI and RPA have been used separately to give companies a competitive edge. The R&D units of companies and tech experts have realised the collective value that RPA and AI can offer. They have begun to whet the possibilities as the RPA-AI combination carries the promise of reshaping employment opportunities.

“RPA has been growing at the rate of 60-65 per cent year-on-year. The statistics indicate that the data from RPA helps in making more informed decisions,” Gary Conway, chief evangelist, Automation Anywhere told a recent Nasscom conference.

On its own, AI has digital and analytics capabilities to gather structured and unstructured data. RPA can automate processes and repetitive tasks through software ( the ‘robot’ in RPA needs to be understood as a software robot). Both technologies are meant to increase output. So it makes sense to combine the essence of RPA and AI and use them in newer business applications. They will empower end-to-end business processes, besides reading emails, recognising speech and doing language translations. RPA performs tasks whose data is fed into AI, which in turn, helps the organisation in taking decisions.

The RPA-AI combination is identified as intelligent automation. Analytics and cognitive capabilities are among their key takeaways. Every part of the value chain is being integrated with intelligent automation to re-focus the revenue model. “Intelligent automation (IA) is on the rise. A combination of IA and human intelligence is of top concern to organisations for arriving at cost effective solutions,” said Shanmugam Nagarajan, co-founder and chief people officer at [24]7.ai.

Intelligent automation has four pillars. “This includes a business process management tool, which maps things that need to be done. The second aspect is the RPA process, which offers shorter-go-to-market technology,” highlighted Sunil D'Souza, VP - business transformation and information systems (MEA), Redington Gulf. AI, the third aspect, is important for automation, followed by integration, which brings process efficiency, while lowering paperwork. Fourth in the category is integration. As the name suggests, it integrates all the dimensions.

Intelligent automation is particularly beneficial in the Covid scenario. That’s because the pandemic has flattened profits and lowered efficiency levels, compelling organisations to think more strategically than before. It requires re-engineering on the part of the organisation to create the desired outputs in every segment of the value chain. Or else, it becomes a strain for security providers to handle cost-related issues.

This leads us to think of rationalising jobs in times of the pandemic. Survival is crucial for the next six months, so it becomes necessary to invest in sharp tools. It will be a digital transformation, wherein the tech stack will be updated. Data-driven insights will determine many of the company’s investments.

By itself, RPA has been used in many business houses. Its purpose has been to facilitate decision-making once the organisation comes with a clear goal of business objectives. “Businesses need to specify what they want. Some may want to lower taxes others may be concerned about escalating expenditure,” explained Krishnan Gopi, group chief disruption officer, GEMS Education. So basically businesses need to get their priorities right and automate accordingly.

RPA is not a technology project but a business-led initiative, supported by technology. “Technology is the easier part of the RPA process, selecting the right tool is critical to make the nature of the processes feasible,” observed Gopi. Certain thumb rules work here. For instance, flexibility and agility in approach are key factors while choosing a process. They help organisations to gauge the impact of the process versus the cost of its execution. Functional richness of the product, ease of implementation, total cost of ownership and the right integration partner are essential to make the RPA process work. Now in the Covid times, organisations need to ensure that RPA is secure as employees work from home (WFH). Cloud is being increasingly tapped for security as well as scalability.

Customer service is a segment where RPA is being used judiciously. “Automating everything in customer service can be disastrous. Seen from the customer viewpoint, the human connect cannot be ignored. It’s required to cross-sell and even up-sell products and ideas,” cautioned Nagarajan. So customer service requires a hybrid approach comprising the virtual and human. In work scenarios, it’s important to retain an individual to handle certain portfolios. Sensitive issues like customer-related matters in an insurance company can be tackled by a human rather than a bot. Bots can take care of flight bookings and offer updates on bank accounts.

Processes like procure-to-pay happen by sending a mail to a bot. The transaction is mailed to the supplier and the invoice is automated. The problem is when vendor-related issues crop up; consequently, human intervention becomes necessary.   

Other than RPA, physical robots are being leveraged. Till some time ago, labour-intensive industries never used technology across sections. Now that’s changing as we have physical robots perform tasks across shop floors.

The nagging fear is whether RPA is a threat to human jobs. This thought takes us back in time. “The first personal computer (PC) came about around the 1940s. It was predicted that the PC would replace jobs. Rather, it made people more productive as they learnt the skill sets to handle a PC,” reasoned Conway. We live in challenging times, wherein RPA has become revolutionary. Today with RPA, at the most, the professional will be replaced by someone who knows how to use robot and not fully be replaced by a robot. Humans and machines will work together and that’s the new human capital.

These insights were shared at the Nasscom BPM e-Confluence online event titled ‘Cognitive Automation & RPA – Creating Value and Scalability.’

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles