Robots in the workplace supported by 81% of business chiefs

Robotic process automation continues to be taken up by more organisations – but despite proven benefits, those that already use it are struggling to scale it up

Robotic process automation (RPA) is being increasingly backed by business decision makers, with the roll-out of the tech accelerating.

According to research from Deloitte, 81% of business leaders now support the use of robotics compared with 72% last year, and 67% of them are starting to introduce the technology compared with 49% in 2017.

Reasons for using the technology are also changing. The ability to reduce staff and cut costs was traditionally seen as the main advantage of RPA, but this attitude is diminishing according to Deloitte’s latest annual Global robotics survey. It found that only 5% of businesses are using RPA to reduce costs, compared with 21% in the previous year’s research.

The research comes from a survey of more than 500 businesses with combined revenues of $3.5tn.

Those that have already implemented RPA report improved productivity (95%), with 93% stating that it has made compliance processes better. More than three-quarters report that RPA is providing better information to management.

Justin Watson, robotics and cognitive automation lead at Deloitte, said robots are fixtures in the workplace. “The challenge now will be for robotics to be scaled effectively to truly show their worth in boosting productivity as well as reducing risk, increasing revenue and improving the experience of both customers and employees,” he added.

But most businesses are struggling to add more robots to their estates to reap further benefits. Deloitte found that only 4% of the organisations surveyed used more than 50 robots. This figure was 3% above the previous year, revealing little advance.

According to the report, a third of respondents struggle to scale up due to the fragmented nature of processes they want to automate, as well as differences between online and offline tasks. A lack of clear strategy for RPA is holding 17% of businesses back.

“Few organisations have been able to scale robotics quickly, with many struggling to move beyond early experiments. Workforce behaviour needs to change to recognise the benefits of robotics and the potential boost to productivity,” said Watson.

“We’re now at a stage where the pace of robotic deployment has the potential to accelerate rapidly, but to fuel this organisations must have a clear vision, strategy and approach to automation.”

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