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Robots & Automation: Debunking the Myth

The rise of robots and the threat that might pose to our jobs has been a debatable topic of conversation in the supply chain and logistics. But, what is the reality behind it all hype?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not exactly the end of our jobs as we fear. However, Robot Process Automation (RPA) will impact various roles in the supply chain. In the process of change, we should be cautious of the hype around the AI trend. The best decisions come from looking at the trends with clear eyes.

RPA is defined as an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots, or AI workers.

After adoption, the first step is to train the RPA software to capture and interpret the actions of specific processes in software applications already in use by the organization. Once this has been done, the RPA can manipulate data, process transactions, trigger responses, initiate reactions, and communicate with other systems autonomously.

Some of the immediate benefits of RPA include expediting back-office tasks and middle-office tasks in industries such as supply chain management (SCM), insurance, finance, procurement, accounting, customer relationship management (CRM), and human resource management (HRM).

Are we in the brink of a jobless future?

By the year 2025, automation software is expected to replace about 140 million full-time employees across the globe. However, many new jobs will be simultaneously created to cope with the need for qualified workers needed to maintain, improve, and develop RPA software.

Industry reports have found two ways of thinking. On one hand, there are those who believe that the rise of software robots represents a threat to industry and the current way of working. On the other, many are optimistic and convinced about a future including RPA in the enterprise.

For Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff at Robotic Process Automation software provider Redwood, RPA is completely altering the business case dynamics for outsourcing, and can now be applied to transform business activities. Kinson believes robotics present an opportunity to re-imagine business processes and their interdependencies.

The implementation of robotics in the enterprise is gaining momentum. This is what this recent Redwood Software report found when summarizing current robot usage and the growth of interest in organizations.

The study found that 27% of the participants are using robotics, 35% are actively looking, and 38% are curious or researching. In addition, 67% said they plan on using RPA in the next 12 months, and 72% plan to leverage existing investment in ERP to drive further automation in the next 12 months.

Understanding RPA

Since RPA is considered a sort of automation tool by some, or as human free processing, or as automation with AI by others it is not surprising that there is a limited understanding of the benefits that robotization can bring to the organizations. This, in turn, limits the view of what it can be achieved by its implementation.

Benefits of RPA mentioned in the report include driving more efficiencies and margins, improving end-to-end process visibility, meeting Service-Level Agreements (SLAs), and achieving greater process standardization, compliance, and control.

A case study also showed how releasing Full-Time Employees (FTEs) from performing slow error prone manually repetitive back-office processes by replacing them with robots can bring process efficiency to the organization. Supervisors get more visibility and control of the process end-to-end thanks to RPA rather than in silos.

Understanding RPA

Since RPA is considered a sort of automation tool by some, or as human free processing, or as automation with AI by others it is not surprising that there is a limited understanding of the benefits that robotization can bring to the organizations. This, in turn, limits the view of what it can be achieved by its implementation.

Benefits of RPA mentioned in the report include driving more efficiencies and margins, improving end-to-end process visibility, meeting Service-Level Agreements (SLAs), and achieving greater process standardization, compliance, and control.

A case study also showed how releasing Full-Time Employees (FTEs) from performing slow error prone manually repetitive back-office processes by replacing them with robots can bring process efficiency to the organization. Supervisors get more visibility and control of the process end-to-end thanks to RPA rather than in silos.

Fear of the unknown

With all the benefits that RPA seem to bring, what is holding some organizations back? The Redwood report has identified the main barriers that hold some from adoption:

Image source: Redwood

Image source: Redwood

Concern about job losses

Many people imagine a robot sat at an employee's desk, rather than behind-the-scenes. However, this kind of scenario is inaccurate. RPA aims at transforming processes rather than being replacement units.

Of course, there will be job losses in the same way that many people lost their job in the past due to dramatic changes in industry. Yet, the reappropriation of skill sets into other parts of the business will signify an increase in the bottom line.

Indeed, old tools and approaches need to give room to better and newer technologies. “Jobs will be lost, but others will be created –skill sets will change. Repetitive, manual processes will increasingly be automated, freezing workers up to focus on more value-add, strategic tasks,” Redwood researchers noted in the paper.

Not understanding RPA means holding back

This is clear for 37% of respondents questioned in Redwood's survey, who said that “the biggest benefit to implementing robotics would be to automate manual data entry –compared with options such as robotics that can automate processes without intervention.”

For the researchers, this low percentage is a clear indication of the limited understanding of the capabilities of robotics, or perhaps the respondents are not ready yet for more advanced robotics.

The other side of the coin: Committing to RPA

According to the survey, there are many others ready to commit to RPA. The results showed that 56% of respondents found RPA improved process efficiency, 46% found it improved accuracy of data, also 46% found an improvement in productivity of FTEs, and 45% noticed a reduction in costs.

Recently, Gartner outlined a Market Guide for Robotic Process Automation Software in which enterprise architects are encouraged to understand the full capabilities of RPA tools and to evaluate their need within operations. 

Automation and robotic technology is reshaping the labor market without a doubt. However, it is not possible to expect a revolution such as the one envisioned by Industry 4.0 without expecting change. This change promises to move forward those supply chains willing to embrace it.  

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