Why little-known, but widely used, Robotics Process Automation is key to levelling up productivity

This is a guest blogpost by Oded Karev, general manager of Robotics Process Automation, NICE

The UK is suffering from a productivity crisis. Since the 2008 global financial crash, output per hour worked grew at less than half the rate it had averaged in the years leading up to it. By 2019, productivity was 20% below what it would have been had the trajectory pre-crash been maintained.

High productivity has widespread ramifications: it makes businesses more valuable, improves the tax-take for governments and raises individual living standards. For these reasons, the government chose boosting labour productivity as a key metric of success in its goal of ‘levelling up’ the UK.

The difficulty with solving the productivity crisis

Although productivity is ‘measurable’, there are dozens of contributory factors – everything from the business make-up of the economy to energy prices to geographical centralisation of workers, and more. But if we look at when productivity was on the rise, between 1999 and 2007, Britain was booming as growth was heavily concentrated in industries, such as computing, finance and professional services.

Productivity – a worker’s hourly value output – has historically been boosted by giving them access to the tools that let them do their job better. Between 1999 and 2007, it was computers. Today, it’s Robotics Process Automation.

What is Robotics Process Automation?

Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is a little-known technology that may not hold all the keys to boosting productivity, but it certainly holds at least one. Gartner predicts that by the end of 2022, 90% of large companies will have deployed the technology in some fashion. When we consider that productivity in the worst-performing tenth of companies is 16 times lower than in the top 10 percent of businesses, SMEs should take notice of what the bigger players are doing.

Coincidentally, outside of business purposes, unscrupulous individuals have caught on to how RPA can automate the purchase process on retailer websites. When in-demand products are launched, so-called ‘scalpers’ spot the goods for sale and automate the checkout process, securing themselves the console or trainers that they can sell at vastly inflated prices. Though businesses will have less controversial tasks for their robots, this illustrates the power and practicality RPA can have on automating otherwise lengthy and boring processes.

RPA helps businesses reduce the amount of time, effort and money spent on repetitive manual tasks, thereby freeing workers to concentrate on tasks that are more fulfilling and that computers are incapable of handling.

How it helps

For example, in the customer service industry, my own field, “Attended RPA” software bots are installed on employees’ desktop, taking over the repetitive, admin-driven processes facing human agents. These bots automatically bring up customer data from disparate systems to provide faster and more effective customer service. They auto-populate forms, and should a customer have, for example, a billion questions, it can present an agent with predefined guidance based on similar prior customer enquiries. One of our customers noted a 17% reduction in average handling time, resulting in estimated annual cost savings of over $250,000.

This is one example of many. RPA can help accountants fill in tax returns or insurance brokers identify risk positions on similar assets. Alternatively, it can help lawyers find obscure references in legal doctrine or teachers find a pupil’s grade average. Crucially, it is not a replacement for the human but an augmentation of their day-to-day role.

A frictionless future

In our day-to-day lives, we’ve been conditioned to expect everything to be easy, effortless and instantaneous. But for millions of people, that expectation stops when we consider the tasks waiting for us at work. Spending time on tedious admin feels obtrusive and painful.  Avoiding friction is a key determinant in boosting individual productivity, job satisfaction, regardless of industry. When businesses embraced digital in the early 2000s, productivity boomed. It can again, at least in part, if businesses embrace the robotics process automation revolution.

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