Dr Shreya Kangovi, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania recently referred to COVID as a, “Funhouse mirror that is amplifying issues that have existed forever.” Dr Kangovi may have been speaking to the medical shortcomings of our global pandemic, but it’s an analogy that’s industry-agnostic: this lockdown has been a time of unexpected contemplation for us all.
Funhouse mirrors are rarely flattering reflections, and many of our learnings have been bittersweet. Certainly, as we spent more time at home and less time in the office, it became abundantly clear that something was lacking in our modern way of working. No commute meant less time in our cars, more time with our families and loved ones, and an overall sense of better health and balance. By removing the unnecessary flotsam and jetsam of work — travel, meetings, work formalities — we were stripping back our roles to their rawest form possible. And guess what? We suddenly had more time on our hands for the important things.
For those of us in the tech industry, a neat metaphor was emerging: the simplification of life when working from home, was mirroring the simplification of work with the help of job automation.
After years of trying to explain the benefits of RPA, we seemed to finally have a correlation that made sense.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has long battled an unsavory reputation as a ‘job-stealer’. These were the sneaky systems coming for your jobs, putting everyone out of work, one bot at a time. It was a frustrating narrative to come up against. RPA, we often found ourselves explaining, wasn’t about stealing your job, it was about streamlining it. It was trimming the fat of unnecessary or repetitive tasks in order to free up the time for creative, human-centric projects instead.
As most of the Australian workforce shifted into home offices and left behind the unnecessary or repetitive parts of their work in empty office buildings, this argument started to take a little more shape. It became a useful tool as we worked with clients to imagine more streamlined systems and processes.
“Think of it this way,” we’d find ourselves saying. “Since you’ve started working from home, you’ve been able to ditch your Monday morning meeting sprawl, and streamline all catch ups to a weekly Zoom. You don’t get interrupted by passers-by looking for a chat, and you have hours of uninterrupted creative time to get things done. You haven’t lost your job, you’ve just streamlined it. This is exactly the role of RPA.”
Here at Cloudwerx, our clients have been enjoying incredible success with RPA solutions even before COVID. Our Chief Technology Officer Chris Baldock is quick to point out not just the productivity gains, but the immense lifestyle benefits of such automation.
“Let’s look at a real-world example,” says Chris. “One client (who we’ll keep unnamed) works with a huge amount of online applications for their services. For just one of our client’s processes, they needed to lodge approximately 2,000 applications a month. At 25 minutes per application, this adds up to around 10,000 hours saved per year.”
Ten thousand hours. When you start to consider how these hours could be reallocated — upskilling, new project ideation, creative workshops — you start to imagine the actual benefits of RPA.
“Beside the massive productivity gains, this had the added benefit of allowing staff to spend less time on repetitive work, and more time engaging with their customers,” Chris points out. “Automation boosted productivity, saved time and allowed this client to redeploy staff to do more satisfying work.”
It’s important to remember that the COVID funhouse mirror has skewed some work processes inaccurately, too. Not everything is as bad as it seems, and not everything will remain this urgent forever. Yes, the current global crisis is demanding full time work-from-home arrangements for most people, but that’s not a permanent solution. As the vaccine arrives, offices will reopen and companies will be faced with the option to either return to the old way of doing things — or to use the opportunity to move towards innovation and growth. At Cloudwerx, we see these as extremely fertile circumstances in which to trial RPA in your workplace.
It’s a view shared by many industry forecasters. 78% of senior IT decision-makers in Australia see robotic process automation as ‘essential’ for businesses to remain competitive, while 92% of executives globally are embracing automation. Wire19 has named RPA growth as their number two tech predication in a post-COVID world, pointing to 20% adoption growth in the past year alone.
“Robotic process automation, which enables the automation of repetitive tasks, is going to see rapid growth in 2021,” writes Priyanka Dadhich earlier this month.
“Our AI predictions say that it will grow more than it did last year. According to Gartner (September 2020), the global revenue of RPA software will continue to grow, reaching nearly $2 billion in 2021, which is 20% more than the previous year.”
If you’re a business owner reading this, you’re likely wondering what kind of opportunities exist for you and your company.
Whilst tech solutions are highly customised, Cloudwerx CTO Chris Baldock says there are some clear RPA opportunities that apply to us all.
“There are three key areas I see us playing in,” says Chris. “Firstly, ‘quote-to-cash’ — scanning emails and order forms, extracting key data and entering them into the back end. Secondly, ‘procure-to-pay’ — scanning invoices from suppliers, providers, and partners, and again extracting key data and automatically entering it. And lastly, ‘Data Entry Across Systems’.”
This one is a little more complex, says Chris. Many companies have systems which require staff to manually enter the data into two systems, which we call ‘swivel chairing’.
“It’s a huge waste of time that can be saved by a single integration. Here, we can use RPA to automatically enter the details into the second system saving staff from re-keying.”
Whilst the systems and the people operating them may change dramatically from business to business, there are some common challenges that affect us all. And these challenges can be solved quickly and easily with clever automation.
The pandemic lockdown and continuing disruption to our standard working practices has been a complex situation to navigate. There is no silver bullet to creating a ‘new normal’. But finding opportunity for innovation amid the chaos is increasingly important: if not now, then when?
Robotic Process Automation is not a movement designed to steal jobs, or force people into roles they don’t want. Instead, it’s the technology grown to amplify performance, and increase employee enjoyment. So as we look into the COVID-19 funhouse mirror and see the ugly face of workplace dissatisfaction staring back, let’s seize this rare opportunity to create long-lasting, meaningful change.