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By 13 July 2021 | Categories: feature articles

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By Emma Murray, chief operating officer for APJMEA at IFS

Businesses today are on the perpetual hunt for new ways to add value and drive growth – and are increasingly looking to intelligent technology like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to run smarter in a challenging economic climate. Nearly two-thirds of business leaders – 64 percent – identified intelligent technologies as critical to accelerate their business, streamline operations and drive efficiencies.

RPA lies at the heart of intelligent technologies. Now more commonly known simply by the term automation, it refers to the automation of business processes across the enterprise using software robots. However, RPA goes deeper than just robotics to include technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT), to either perform tasks automatically or augment human delivery.

More and more businesses, particularly in the Aerospace & Defense, Construction & Infrastructure, Energy & Utilities, Manufacturing, and Service industries, are investing in these technologies to innovate, transform and add new products, services and revenue streams into their offerings to act as a competitive advantage.

Using these technologies as a differentiator requires the ability to derive value from them more rapidly, affordably, and better. Across South Africa, for example, RPA is being deployed across industries where repetitive, rule-based work is involved. It is being used in financial services, by auditing firms, telecommunications companies and contact centres to take over menial tasks and manual processes, and free up time for employees to focus on creativity, problem-solving and innovation.

According to Gartner, the decreased dependency on a human workforce for routine, digital processes will be more attractive to organisations, not only in terms of benefiting from cost-savings, but to protect their business against future impacts like pandemics.

South Africa’s banking industry has taken the lead on using RPA to drive cost-savings and efficiencies, add value and enhance the customer experience by automating rule-based business processes to create a streamlined back office, enabling banks to deploy experienced staff where they are needed.

Some banks already make use of AI surveillance tools to prevent financial crime, while others are deploying machine learning for tax planning. Wealth managers can now also offer automated investing advice across multiple channels, and many insurers now use automated underwriting tools in their daily decision-making.

Delivering on the moment of service through smart automation

For industries like financial services, service and providing a seamless experience is fast becoming the most compelling differentiator.

Gartner predicts that by combining a seamless customer experience, employee experience and user experience to transform each business outcome, by 2024, organisations providing a total experience will outperform competitors by 25 percent in satisfaction metrics for both customer and employee experience.

The use of digital technology like RPA can play a vital role in enabling a shift to a service and outcome-based business model. This means integrating automation into this model in such a way that the tech-assisted experiences happen alongside the human-assisted ones.

Designing such systems requires a balance between the needs of the business (cost efficient service that maximises revenue), customers (service without worry once it is received), and employees (tools and resources that enable them to effectively understand and meet customer needs).

Organisations must thoughtfully consider where automation versus assisted service makes the most sense.

For instance, even if much of the heavy lifting in the future will be carried out by AI and machines, with RPA taking away mundane tasks to enable employees to focus on innovation and problem-solving, we will still need humans to programme, manage and run these systems.

This shift towards smarter, automated, data-driven processes will create a number of skills higher up on the value chain. Cryptography, blockchain management, robotics, AI computing and analytics will all become highly sought-after skills in this brave new world.

These technology advances will also enable processes to be spread further and wider geographically than ever before, which means that we will need humans to manage this dispersed and culturally diverse workforce.

Business leaders need to prepare their employees for this impact and shift. And with Gartner predicting that 90 percent of large organisations globally will have adopted RPA in some form by next year to digitally empower critical business processes through resilience and scalability, while redeploying human labour and manual tasks, it is going to be more critical than ever to empower today’s employees to adapt to this changing world.

This requires upskilling programmes so that employees can transition into new roles where they can add more value.

Likewise, skills development programmes must focus on developing critical skills to support and drive the RPA opportunity so that businesses can reap the benefits, including increased efficiency, improved service delivery, advanced analytics and greater performance.

In today’s challenging economy, the implementation of intelligent technologies like RPA is bolstering a new form of business automation that will provide companies that are brave enough with the tools and services they need to be more competitive and outwit larger competitors.

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