The Japanese government is making efforts to promote work style innovation. As a tool for doing so, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which automates everyday tasks, is currently attracting attention. At the "Rethinking the Use of RPA Today: The Future of Work Realized by Digital Technology" conference, which was held during Fujitsu Forum 2018 (May 17-18, 2018), experts introduced the latest trends and uses for RPA as well as case studies.
[Fujitsu Forum 2018 Conference Report]
Scale of the RPA Market and RPA's Applications
RPA is used mainly to optimize and automate everyday white-collar tasks. This new concept, which is also called "digital labor," has rapidly spread throughout the Japanese business world, and its implementation is expected to be the first step toward achieving workplace innovation.
This conference discussed the current state of RPA usage in Japanese companies as well as the challenges that must be overcome to implement RPA. In addition, people spoke about future changes that may be brought about by integrating artificial intelligence (AI).
Japan's RPA Market Expected to Exceed Eight Billion Yen by 2021
To begin, Masato Tateno of ITR Corporation described the current state of RPA implementation in Japan and made predictions about the market scale.
Regarding companies' intentions to implement RPA, Tateno explained, "Interest in RPA has intensified greatly in just the last few years. We at ITR believe that using software robots to automate tasks is inevitable. Other reasons for focusing on automation include the declining workforce, strengthening of regulations on overworking, and prevention of data falsification."
According to market research conducted by ITR in autumn 2017, RPA implementation has expanded to a scale of 5,000 people; it is advancing particularly in the telecommunications, finance, and insurance industries. "As for the manufacturing industry, the intention to implement has increased over a roughly three-year period. We believe that implementation will proceed in various industries going forward." (Tateno)
Another study ITR conducted found that the market scale for RPA software in 2017 was two billion yen in Japan and 12 billion yen worldwide. Tateno continued, "Japan is one of the hottest markets right now. We expect that the market will exceed eight billion yen in five years, by 2021." He went on to give the following advice, "Those in charge of information system departments in companies should select the tasks that are optimal to apply RPA to while prioritizing creation of governance and management frameworks in order to prepare for future large-scale implementation."
Realizing the "Future of Work," the Next Generation Work Style Fujitsu Envisions
Next, Fujitsu's Noriyuki Nakamura introduced Fujitsu's efforts toward future work style innovation centered around digital technology.
Fujitsu defines the next generation work style as the "Future of Work," and the company is working to bring this vision to fruition.
Nakamura explained, "Thus far, the main focus has been on working on-the-go, telecommuting, and other efforts to reorganize work environments. This focus is shifting more toward using RPA to reduce the labor involved in human tasks in offices. At Fujitsu, we are working to change the way we perform tasks and the people-work relationship by utilizing IT to achieve task automation and autonomy, as well as by advancing use of knowledge.
Next Generation Work Style: "Future of Work"
In May 2018, aiming to realize the Future of Work, Fujitsu began to provide ACTIBRIDGE, a new service that transforms work done in offices and on-site reception.
Besides automation and autonomy of tasks previously performed by humans, ACTIBRIDGE supports the next generation work style by performing tasks that humans cannot.
Specifically, the following three services are optimally integrated and offered to customers: "digital consulting," which visualizes and examines the work-related challenges a customer faces and uses the latest technology to solve such problems; "digital technology," a lineup of various cutting-edge technologies; and "knowledge services," which provide Fujitsu knowhow and insights obtained from experience.
Besides providing services that cover everything from verification to operation, by optimally combining technologies beyond RPA including AI, Business Rule Management System (BRMS), Business Process Management System (BPMS), Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), automation and digitalization are achieved, including for tasks that could not be transformed with RPA alone.
Nakamura emphasized the new service's advantages, adding, "We can do this not only for office work but also on-site reception work, which can help achieve comprehensive task optimization."
Three Points for Getting Results When Introducing RPA
Next, Koichi Hasegawa of UiPath, which leads the market in developing RPA solutions, explained crucial points for successful RPA automation as a business foundation.
Since UiPath's Japan subsidiary was incorporated in February 2017, over 280 companies in Japan have implemented their solutions. Hasegawa talked about the latest trends, explaining, "Compared to the US, Japan was thought to be about two years behind, but we've achieved world-class results in just the past year."
He went on to introduce successful cases, such as that of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, which used RPA task automation to generate a million hours equivalent to about 500 employees, and that of Dentsu, which had automated 400 tasks by the end of 2017 and is implementing initiatives to realize work style innovation.
Moreover, he listed three points for successful RPA implementation: scalability(company wide implementation), resilience (stable operation), and intelligence (AI integration). "It's important to start small, and then move toward company wide implementation. You can also achieve stable operation by monitoring the operational statuses of implemented robots and constantly making improvements. With mutual supplementation by RPA and AI, productivity improves even more." (Hasegawa)
RPA is very capable of automating simple tasks, but there are limits when it comes to knowledge work that requires the ability to make judgements. On the other hand, AI is an autonomous technology that can carry out self-learning. By combining RPA with AI, the system can evaluate things autonomously and make appropriate judgements.
Three factors behind successful RPA implementation
How to Use RPA to Make Workers on the Ground Happy
In the second half of the conference, the discussion focused on work style innovation achieved with RPA.
Preventing Deviant Robots
Moderator Eiji Asai spoke about the risks posed by automation and robotics, such as robots deviating from their designed purposes, security incidents, and compliance violations. He then asked the presenters about solutions related to RPA implementation.
Tateno answered, "The level of detail of tasks that we are trying to optimize with RPA is much finer than other projects that information systems have attempted to tackle thus far. In order for information system departments to push forward with RPA, they must get closer than ever before to actual tasks on-site."
Nakamura answered, "In on-site departments, it starts by talking about how to optimize the tasks that lie right in front of them. On-site leadership tends to pursue partial optimization, which carries much risk. To prevent the emergence of deviant robots and to keep them under control, people with expert knowledge in security and operation must be involved from the earliest stages of implementation."
Fujitsu observes customers' on-site tasks and then analyzes the findings. Fujitsu internally trains "field innovators," who are experts that can take such data and extract and improve issues. In addition, in 2017, Fujitsu introduced a new job title called "digital innovator." Digital innovators use new technology to ascertain how a customer's business can be transformed, then make concrete plans based on the results. Fujitsu already employs more than 200 digital innovators.
Hasegawa explained, "To jump-start large-scale implementation, it's important to create killer content that captures users' attention and to build motivation on-site."
Implementing a new service or platform inevitably incurs costs. Killer content is a type of content that exhibits a level of appeal that convinces users to transition to the new service or platform despite such costs.
RPA + AI Case Study: Effectively Reducing Office Task Workloads and Reception Task Automation
Asai offered his opinion, saying, "RPA is very capable of automating simple tasks, but there are limits when it comes to knowledge work that requires the ability to make judgements. That's where combinations of AI, IoT, and VR come in to enable transformation of work styles."
The conference included a demonstration of an OCR solution jointly developed by UiPath and Fujitsu. Paper invoices are scanned with OCR, which then registers documents in a management system, thus automating the task of document input. "OCR and RPA work in harmony. By integrating AI, we can apply this solution to even more advanced tasks." (Hasegawa)
Nakamura continued, "By integrating AI and other technologies, we open up possibilities to solutions we cannot imagine with just RPA alone." He proceeded to introduce two case studies on Fujitsu's efforts to apply RPA to reception work.
In the first example, decision-making tasks in central purchasing were automated by combining RPA with AI. By automating the assignment of a monthly average of more than 60,000 central purchasing tasks to 300 employees, the workload was reduced by 2,500 hours annually, making possible a shift toward more creative tasks.
In the second example, chatbots and RPA automated reception tasks for construction work. Automation of reception tasks related to customer applications and schedule adjustment tasks was achieved by the "CHORDSHIP" chatbot and RPA. The level of customer service was improved by 24/7 support and instantaneous schedule confirmation.
Nakamura explained, "RPA and AI sound like daunting undertakings, but with a little bit of solution-finding and familiarization, you can immediately feel their effectiveness. Also, since massive amounts of data must be collected for AI, which can only learn from learning data, RPA can also be used as a tool to augment AI."
He then described how emulators can be used to refer to and input updates into existing legacy systems that serve as key systems. In response, Asai commented, "This is changing companies and information systems in extraordinary ways."
Expectations for More Personal Uses of RPA
In closing, Asai asked the presenters for comments, "It is said that Japanese companies are sustained by the strength of those working on the ground, but how can IT help make workers happier?"
Tateno answered, "Going forward, as the trend in which each worker handles multiple tasks progresses, RPA, which has been discussed thus far from a corporate perspective, may come to be considered something more individual-oriented. We want to see more personal functionalities develop."
Nakamura answered, "At Fujitsu, the objective with RPA is to make it into something like a personal secretary, and to put it to use not only within the company but to help transform individuals' work styles as well as to make everyone's jobs easier."
Hasegawa answered, "There are two ways to think about this: the company perspective, and the individual perspective. From the company perspective, RPA can handle data input, collation, and referencing tasks, which offers some satisfaction in that regard. From the individual perspective, I agree with the two of you. I predict that we will reach a world where the idea of a 'personal concierge' becomes a widespread reality."
Graphical depiction of the conference content
Board Member, Senior Analyst
Digital Transformation Business Group