Wynand Smit. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG - What the movie Jaws did to inspire unjustified terror in audiences about the shark species, movies such as Terminator and iRobot have done to create an innate fear of robots, in particular, that they’ll go rogue and turn on their human creators.

A less mentioned fear is that they’ll take our jobs. While robotic automation has certainly changed the face of many industries, it hasn’t replaced the workforce, and there’s a good reason why.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) isn’t meant to replace humans, but it can be used to create a cost-effective, human-friendly environment within which businesses can improve performance and thrive. 

The business context

Manual, high-volume, repetitive tasks and processes often form the foundation of most day-to-day business operations. This could include tasks and workflows related to finance (such as invoicing), customer service, IT, HR or other business functions. Manual tasks may include logging into applications, navigating to screens, copying and pasting values between applications or other activities required to initiate a workflow or complete a process. Manual tasks don’t just take longer and cost more but they are also susceptible to human error – potentially affecting service levels, the customer experience and organisational efficiency and productivity.

How it works

What RPA does is record, mimic, and then automate the activity of a human being in carrying out a repetitive, high-volume manual task within a process – this can be applied across any business application or system.

RPA is ideal for businesses with legacy, complex, or multiple systems as the automation is non-disruptive, requires no heavy back-end integration, is quick and cost-effective to roll out, and can be scaled and applied instantly. On a purely functional level, this decreases manual processing time, improves accuracy, and reduces the cost of everyday business processes.

With all this, and the Hollywood theme in mind, here are some myths that need to be debunked about RPA, along with the reasons why:
Myth 1: it’s all about cutting costs

While RPA is cost-effective to roll out and one bot can effectively do the work of three human employees (resulting in a potential ROI of 30-200% in the first year of implementation), there’s more to it than saving money. RPA can initially be used as a tactical tool for cost savings but when used as a strategic tool, it will yield enormous long-term benefits. Discovering opportunities to consolidate demand across business units will not just drive savings but also push the organisation towards a more holistic, aligned business strategy and could ultimately drive competitive differentiation.

Myth 2: RPA only works in the back office

Initial business cases for automation may have been in the back office or IT services environment, but its relevance and broad application to other areas will result in creating more and more front office use cases – particularly where there is a high volume of repetitive and inefficient processes that could potentially benefit from automation.
Myth 3: RPA will take over the entire business and replace the human workforce
While a high percentage of rule-based processes can be automated, there will always be a place for more complex processes that require human involvement, so it is impossible to automate every process and workflow.

When it comes to the workforce, the use of RPA enables repetitive tasks to be completed more accurately, quickly and tirelessly than humans, freeing up employees to perform other more complicated tasks that require human strengths such as reasoning, judgement, insight, emotional intelligence or creativity. Whole jobs won’t be lost, but mundane repetitive parts of jobs may be offloaded to a virtual workforce. This allows employees to focus on value-added and more interesting work that only they can execute well. Far from taking the human out of the workplace, RPA takes the robot out of the human, creating an environment that is more rewarding for employees and more efficient and productive for businesses. 

Robot Process Automation sounds like an abstract concept, but unlike the typically apocalyptic narrative of Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters, the use of automation in organisations is likely to bring about a future where performance is improved - to the benefit of businesses, employees and customers alike.

Wynand Smit is CEO of INOVO, a leading contact centre business services provider.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT