Digital Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation is defined as the application of technology that allows employees to use a robot to perform a process that would otherwise be done by a human. It has existed in one form or another for many years; think machines building cars on a production line. What has changed recently to make this form of automation more appealing is the expansion into the back office, the ability to automate things like reporting or support processes. The advantage of automation is clear. So long as the robot can complete the process without a mistake, it will be more efficient and most likely cheaper than using a human. This change is beneficial to employees as well. It enables the shift away from simple, repetitive tasks to those that deliver innovation, creativity and the generation of value.

CIO Connect The name Robotic Process Automation can be problematic, the term robot has a generally negative reputation in our culture, conjuring images of Terminators and Skynet, robots trying to take over the world, or robots like Honda’s ASIMO, which although generally impressive, is overcome by some stairs and makes us feel useful robots are many years away.

In any case, the definition of what a robot is and what is just technology or digital technology is somewhat unclear. As an article on Fusion, a few weeks ago pointed out The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a robot, “a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer” applies to much more that we would class as robots. The article suggests “smart thermostats” and “the engine management systems in cars” are in this category. A Health Robot

Given the negative connotations associated with robots and the lack of clarity about the definition, why not just drop the term all together? We deliberately entitled this piece ‘Digital Process Automation’ to signal this shift. Everybody is aware that the way an idea is communicated, especially to non-experts, is incredibly important in determining whether it will be accepted or not. CIO Connect believe that by referring to these technological advancements as digital automation rather than robotic automation more doors will open up, acceptance will be much easier and delivery of business benefit faster.

We should always be considering if the technology is ready to automate back office processes with the reliability that is necessary. Organisations have begun to try using automated writers. This technology, which could be considered similar to a super advanced mail merge, requires a set of data to be imported and a template to be written using complex logic and some elements of randomness to convert input data into readable articles. The Associated Press has been trialling a software product called Wordsmith to produce some of its reporting around the release of various company’s financial statements and reports. These reports are very formulaic but differ in ways that traditional mail merging would not be able to deal with. It is easy to see the possibilities for this sort of technology in automating board reports, progress report, business intelligence reporting and more.

Many back office roles could be made easier by taking the “process intensive but innovation poor” elements and giving them to technology. This is similar to the original justification for outsourcing. Digital process automation has the potential to allow organisations to bring functions back in house at a cheaper cost. Rather than the work being done by cheap labour overseas, it can be completed in house by machines and a few highly skilled workers.

What you must do now – the CIO Connect recommendation

Digital Process Automation is good for everyone. CIO Connect believes that CIOs should be looking to add new technologies to their business as they become available and automate as much innovation free work as possible. It is not just processes related to low level employees that can be automated, there is opportunity to improve the productivity of high level executives and knowledge workers. The free time generated could be used on more innovative and creative projects, generating more value for the organisation as well as improving employee satisfaction.

STR0191 – Nov 2015

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