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It’s time to communicate the true meaning of ‘robotics’

Posted: 09/02/2016 - 19:55

When we talk about ‘robotics’, we are no longer talking about plugging in ‘dumb’ machines to mimic human action. Enterprise process robotics has evolved to a point where it can be integrated into existing systems, talking directly to applications with a built-in understanding of process best practice. However, despite this, perceptions often remain outdated. Recent Redwood Software research conducted with Shared Services Link revealed that 97% of those in shared services are confident that robots can automate manual data entry tasks, compared to just 52% who agree that they can “understand basic finance processes”. Just 51% believe that they can replace human activity from end-to-end. And less than a third of respondents actually think it is possible to automate more than 80% of the finance processes in their companies, despite having the correct resources.

It is clear that there is still an education gap when it comes to enterprise process robotics, and what greater efficiencies it can deliver in the shared services and finance functions especially.

Defining robotics

Everyone is talking about robotics, but everyone approaches it from different sides. A bit like the story of the blind men that are feeling an elephant. One says "It’s a tree!"; the other one says, "No it’s a snake!"; the third one says, "It’s a rope." Everyone thinks it’s something, but no one is looking at it as a whole.

It’s difficult to use enterprise process robotics effectively if we cannot agree on a uniform definition. According to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA), enterprise process robotics is the application of technology that enables employees to configure computer software or a ‘robot’ to catch and analyse existing applications for manipulating data, processing a transaction or triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.

But that’s not all robots can do. The advent of enterprise process robotics presents the opportunity to completely reimagine processes. Companies can look at how they can positively transform processes by not looking at opportunities through a ‘human lens’ but rather through a robotic one. For example, to deliver enterprise-grade scalability, resilience and security, companies can deploy robots to interact directly with core ERP and other business systems through APIs and other standard integration methods. In the instances where there are no interfaces, robots can use desktop application interfaces.

In light of that, companies should fundamentally question how they can use robotics to achieve breakthrough process improvement, part of which entails not doing things in the way they’ve always been done in the past.

The concern for many however, is that if you remove humans from the process entirely, control will be lost. Fortunately, that is not the case. In fact, it is the opposite. Automating processes end-to-end eliminates the siloed approach and improves granular visibility and overall control.

Robotics – too good to be true? Time to set the record straight!

Defining robotics is all very well and good, but what benefits can it actually bring to an organisation? In a finance context, enterprise process robotics brings the potential to improve financial processes and efficiencies, and more importantly, standardise these processes. For example, automatically generated reports mean that you can rely on and trust the data with the upmost certainty, thanks to the accompanying audit trails and documentation that’s present every step of the way. Furthermore, built in business rules remove the need to micro-manage and permits users to monitor processes and trigger actions, whether on a mobile device or sitting at a desk.

Recent Redwood research into the rise of ‘RoboFinance®’ highlighted that investment into robotics doesn’t just meet, but actually can exceed a company’s expectations. At Royal DSM – a global science, health and nutrition company – it was reported that, after an enterprise robotics implementation, the organisation experienced automation levels of 89%, appreciably greater than the 80% automation rates originally estimated. Furthermore, by benchmarking 125 various organisations, it was discovered that 75 out of 100 processes can in fact be automated. The limits of what enterprise process robotics can achieve for core business processes are few and far between.

Why isn’t everyone jumping at the opportunity?

The benefits of enterprise process robotics are there for all to see, so why are more not jumping at the opportunity to invest? Simple: people still think that the old ways are the best. Moreover, automation and robotics are often associated negatively with widespread job losses.

There can be no denying that some jobs may be lost. However, new ones will be created with a reappropriation of skill sets into other parts of the business. This adds tremendous value, and if done correctly, increases the bottom line.

Losing control of processes is one further myth to debunk, as it has been proven that enterprise process robotic solutions give both the visibility and clarity to make decisions and take action at any phase of the business process that the robots are controlling.

In the shared services function in particular, more must jump at the chance to invest in process robotics as it can help to drive greater efficiencies and margins that can be retained or shared with customers. In addition, the solution helps them to improve end-to-end process visibility, meet SLAs and achieve greater standardisation of processes.

The shift is sure to happen, especially as more shared services centres discover that they can easily accomplish more, with less resources, and with minimal hassle and cost.

A new age for robotics

The days of throwing more time-consuming manual effort at core business processes to make them more efficient are gone. Robotics, without the need for unnecessary manual intervention, offers the accuracy, speed and consistency that businesses need to stay afloat in today’s competitive global marketplace. Those organisations that embrace robotics will be the ones that survive and thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

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About The Author

Neil Kinson is chief of staff at Redwood Software.