How automation will re-define critical aspects of human life and increase productivity

With an influx of bevy of software processes and technologies, the entire business process management (BPM) will witness a revolution in the near future

Updated: Jan 13, 2015 12:06:58 PM UTC
Photo: Getty Images

Technology has opened up a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. Today, it touches almost every aspect of our lives – be it travelling, communicating, performing tasks at work, purchasing products or going through daily chores. And, it is further set to change the way things are done in the near-future using automation. In fact, the revolution has already begun. Robots are now being tested to teach everything from mathematics to vocabulary in classrooms. Cheerleading swarm robots are being launched in play fields. In business process management (BPM) too, automation is all set to penetrate deeper.

Taking stock “If you wish to continue the call in English, press 1. For Spanish, press 2…”
This is a familiar form of automation in the voice services space – interactive voice response (IVR), an automated voice solution used in customer support. The simplest form of automation in the data / process space that has been around for years is macro-scripting. This is still used to eliminate rule-based work though; it is not scalable or extendable and is tightly coupled to the back-end.  Any change in the back-end makes macros unusable. Maintenance and support too are huge challenges.

Enter Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
The newest solution on the block is RPA which addresses the many drawbacks of macros and takes automation to the next level. It removes the clicks, scrolls and mimics both rule and judgment-based user actions that include data capture, reconciliation, report generation, and response to statuses without impacting underlying applications. In short, it essentially replaces the user with a software bot or Phantom user.

The possibilities with RPA are huge. Not surprisingly, it has created a lot of buzz. Its advent is being seen as the end of offshoring / outsourcing with complete automation of processes. The RPA buzz stems from the fact that, if one could automate all actions / repetitive rules – 100 percent of them – the effort would be reduced significantly.

A productivity improvement as high as 10X would be possible eventually because all work comes in and goes back electronically on the BPM floor. In between the in-and-out, there are a set of predefined rules documented as standard operating procedures that get repeatedly executed. Given this, no (or very little) activity performed by an associate is without logic or rule. Most of what is done is repetitive and requires little judgment to perform the activity. So theoretically, everything is automatable.

Take the example of human resource (HR) processes. A bulk of the work relates to data capture / entry from structured or unstructured documents, templates, scanned copies, images, and so on. This is perfect for automation. The same holds true for other processes; be it finance, accounting, sales and fulfillment or sourcing and procurement. Activities in these processes such as reconciliation, reporting, query resolution can be completely automated.

But to completely eliminate human intervention, the automation solution should be reusable, highly configurable, and process-agnostic to enable a near zero touch operation or touchless perfect process. It should not only mimic repeatable, rule-based tasks (which require little or no cognition or human expertise), but also replace human expertise or judgment using advances in artificial intelligence, deep learning, big data, and natural user-interfaces combined with unprecedented computing power and connectivity.

So, while most activities across processes can be automated, humans will continue to play important roles in these processes. Of course, up-skilling through domain training, COE setup would be required. And the highly skilled worker who previously performed transactional jobs will now do what humans do best – creativity and thinking.

Tomorrow’s BPM
Although RPA is still in nascent stages, the writing on the wall is clear – it is either do or die scenario. I see the industry moving towards RPA as a service on cloud with a highly capable solution that is easily configurable, requires minimal technology intervention, performs straight through processing and then distributes only the fallouts to human agents. All routine, repetitive, rule-based tasks will be completely taken over by software bots and human skills will move to a higher order capability. This will fundamentally reshape business processes and can help dramatically amplify business value and enhance capability.

Clearly, automation is set to re-define important aspects of personal and professional lives. And as quickly as the verbatim and the technology behind, “Your call is important to us. Please wait while we transfer your call..,” has changed the customer support process. Hence software bots will change the entire BPM landscape in the near future.

By Nithya Prabhakar AVP and Head of Automation at Infosys BPO.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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