Gone are the times when words like ‘automation’ and ‘robots’ popped an image of a machine with human-like limbs in our minds. We are living in an era where automation is helping businesses in every industry around the world seek efficiencies that come from replacing manual tasks with machine-operated ones. Companies are adopting automation technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for business growth to encourage greater creativity, productivity and innovation from employees. This is resulting in a visible increase in customer engagement and new revenue sourcing. By removing the burden of monotonous and time-consuming tasks, automation is also improving employee productivity by 75 per cent and job satisfaction rates by 50 per cent. Over the last few years, there has also been a notable increase in how businesses put automation at the centre of their digital transformation drives.
The Economist Intelligence Unit recently conducted an elaborate survey that brought out insightful results about the present and future of automation. The survey, was the first of its kind to produce an in-depth status report of where the RPA industry in the world is right now, and to put numbers to it.
84 per cent of respondents in the report said that the C-Suite is driving automation initiatives for their business, with automation responsibility rolling up to the CEO (22 per cent), CTO (29 per cent) and CIO (17 per cent). Over 70 per cent of C-suite respondents report that RPA and AI are a high priority to meet their strategic objectives, mainly because they expect it to make them more competitive.
As an industry, manufacturing is the one sector that has gone the farthest, given that 61 per cent of respondents in the industry mentioned extensive adoption of RPA. In the Information Technology (IT) industry, processes like password management and the logging of service requests, and tasks like maintenance scheduling in operations are back-office functions that are highly repetitive, and hence most widely automated. Outside of IT, these automation trends are mostly seen in operations and production, customer service and finance. The respondents of the survey were also of the opinion that in two years, customer service, marketing and R&D functions will be important to automate and RPA adoption will become a strategic business decision, rather than just a tactical decision.
The Indian picture
As a country that is leading the way in RPA and AI-based technologies globally, even ahead of the US and￼ Japan. It won’t be surprising to know that India is the country which is most appeased with the latest developments in automation. Looking at the global picture, the study revealed that 73 per cent of global respondents are satisfied with their automation technologies. Mapping this against the India context, where 86 per cent of respondents from the country are satisfied with automation technologies, business leaders expect their company’s financial results to improve as a result of automation.
Any new technology comes with its own reservations, and RPA is not immune to this concern either. A few factors that hold organisations back from adopting automation are data privacy and security. This is a worry that has been pointed out particularly by public companies and healthcare players. Deployment of technology, lack of relevant talent and skills, and employee resistance are also some factors that act as barriers for business-wide automation adoption. Because of these reasons, there is a need to provide education and reskilling opportunities to existing employees on an on-going basis to ensure smooth adoption and implementation of RPA solutions in businesses.
For organisations that are yet to initiate RPA adoption, the correct starting point would be to figure out which approach to RPA should be taken, top-down or bottom-up. The top-down approach involves taking a centralized view of all business processes and identifying the ones that outnumber others in total volume, occur with the greatest frequency, have the greatest number of repetitive tasks, or require the most time to execute. The bottom-up approach complements a more centralized top-down approach in terms of the percentage of organizational tasks each approach can touch.
For the organisations that have already started RPA initiatives, the challenge will be in scaling it further. Generally, companies go through four stages in the maturity stage of their automation program – starting, scaling, transforming and extending. By having a Robotic Operations Centre (ROC) that handles all RPA related tasks in a centralised manner, scaling can be done systematically.