The story of technology and the workplace has always been one of development and radical change. Anyone with an interest in either will be able to identify the new transformation currently underway:
‘Robotic process automation’, otherwise known as RPA.
It’s expanding at an unprecedented rate. Between 2017 and 2020, the RPA market is expected to develop at a compound annual growth rate of 30.14%.
In fact, a third of all enterprises are already investing in this technology.
And when you look at what RPA can do, it’s easy to see why.
By using software to emulate human interactions with applications and systems, it can perform all the procedural tasks normally done by people: migrating data from a closed system to a new system, for example, or managing stock levels and creating audit reports.
This has a few obvious benefits.
Robots are a 24-hour workforce, and they don’t make errors. The classic estimate is that 1% of all data entry is incorrect due to human error. You can eradicate this completely now that you can automate these data entry jobs.
But I’d like to go beyond the obvious, and explain the advantages of RPA outside error-reduction and generic time-saving.
Contrary to popular opinion, automation is about more than just back office processes. Its value lies in the fact it can be used widely across all different functions in an organisation.
A good illustration of this is the way RPA can be used to enhance the process for new people joining the company (joiners), existing employees transferring within a company (movers), and employees looking to leave (leavers).
Giving employees more time to add value
The major benefit of RPA is that it does all the mundane administration for you, freeing you to spend your time on more valuable tasks.
Let’s look at how this works in a retail context.
Store managers, for instance, are subject matter experts when it comes to cross-selling and upselling on the shop floor. They want to be in-store focusing on the customer; they do not want to be in the back filling out forms.
But there are approximately three million retail employees in the UK, many of whom are seasonal, with high rates of attrition. Store managers have to engage in a certain amount of admin in order to oversee their staff.
RPA can take this away from store managers so they can get back to the shop floor.
But it can go even further than this. If the store manager has an efficient process for on-boarding new staff – by using a chatbot, for instance – the joiner will be able to add value to the business from day one.
First impressions are hugely important to a new employee. Often a joiner will make up their mind about their workplace within the first few days- according to this blog post, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with the company for at least 3 years if they have a good on-boarding experience.
RPA can facilitate a new starter’s initial period by ensuring their details are correctly captured, new personas and email addresses are created for them and that equipment is ready.
In this sense RPA is about enabling employees by giving them everything they need – be it time, contact or the initial welcome – to become subject matter experts.
Joining up systems
Another benefit to RPA is that it can put an end to silo thinking.
Robots can interact with all the different systems within an organisation, regardless of which function they sit in.
This is particularly relevant to new starters or leavers, as the activity required for these processes involves lots of departments. IT has to set them up with an email address; HR has to put them on the payroll; and so on.
As it stands, work is often multiplied across all these separate departments. But a software robot can carry out each of these processes and integrate them into a single system, increasing efficiency and ensuring work is never duplicated.
RPA can complete all the individual tasks needed in the new starter process, It can create a new email identity and set up a payroll account. These are valuable as single tasks in themselves.
But the real value of RPA lies in the way it operates end-to-end across all the departments as a whole, so everything is standardised and no work is repeated or lost in the handover.
Clearly, these benefits are far more wide-reaching than simply eliminating human error.
RPA is also advantageous from a security standpoint.
This is most clearly applicable to the leavers process, as you need to take away access permissions from an employee who is moving on.
RPA can remove leavers’ personae from apps and programmes that communicate sensitive information in order to prevent security problems like the ones encountered by companies whose employees used WhatsApp for their enterprise communications.
But RPA can also do the opposite, providing access to new staff from day one, something particularly important in places like hospitals. Again, this is good for giving the joiner the immediate impression that they are valued.
A revolution in automation
Hopefully, I’ve made it clear how RPA delivers a wide range of benefits, making it more than just a back-office tool.
Businesses are constrained by mundane administrative tasks, and people are constrained by silo thinking.
RPA eliminates both these problems.
But the real gift of RPA lies in the way it can positively impact employee experience, making staff feel valued from the moment they walk through the door.
More than that, though, it frees them from the daily grind of repetitive actions and empowers them to focus on things only humans can do: be creative, show empathy, and spend time giving customers a personal experience.
As the working world changes beyond recognition in the coming years, RPA will play a huge part in creating more valuable work for people to do.
Free from procedural administration, every employee will soon be a subject matter expert.
This can only be a good thing.