Robotic Process Automation: Taking the Robot out of the Human
As Business Process Management (BPM) continues to develop, one of the most exciting and high profile aspects of it is that of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA is transforming organisations across all industries, leading experts to believe that it is one of the most transformational tools in current times. In this article we explore the benefits of RPA and why it is so transformational, along with an analysis of where it can be applied within the financial services sector.
You are probably thinking that RPA is not entirely a new concept and has been around for a number of years; and yes you are right, it has been around for some time now. The key question is what is so different about the latest wave of RPA? The answer lies with the maturity of both the technology being used as well as the business processes that it is being applied to. In addition, the key difference between RPA and other recent automation methods is the approach used for completing the tasks carried out by employees. RPA utilises a standard interface and deploys software without modifying the applications or systems being automated.
Another question to address is why we use RPA rather than simply implementing new systems? Implementing a new system may sound great in theory, however, this is not so straightforward in reality. What happens in every business is that people and technology are combined to meet the external demands of the customer. However, the challenge is often that technology cannot be adopted at the speed which the business requires to meet its needs, and people are used to bridge the gap between technology and processes by applying business rules.
Additionally, most (if not all) banks have old legacy systems which can be very difficult to upgrade, and it is often easier and cheaper to use people to bridge the divide. Although people are able to apply judgment, empathy, interpretation and deal with exceptions, the downside is that people are often left with repetitive and mundane tasks. Such repetitive tasks undertaken by people are often subject to errors, which result in operational deficiencies, less focus on the customer, higher costs and a declining sense of motivation amongst the workforce.
This is where the benefits of RPA come into play, by using a ‘virtual workforce’ empowered by software robots that allow enterprise organisations to automate these mundane and repetitive tasks. For example, a virtual workforce of software robots can be used to automate processes that are governed and hosted by IT, but are configured and controlled by the business.
Below are a number of the characteristics of the best candidate processes to target for RPA automation:
- High volume processes
- Highly manual processes
- Repetitive tasks
- Rules-based tasks
- Low exception processes
- Stable processes
- Data conversion processes
- Low complexity processes
Additionally, if the process is: ambiguous, unstructured, not rules-based, has high exception rates and complexity, or if there are large amounts of data, then Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be employed as this can manage greater variability. AI can improve over time, since AI robots have the ability to ‘self-learn’ whereas RPA capabilities are mainly limited to the criteria mentioned above.
However, apart from removing repetitive and mundane tasks, what other benefits does RPA provide? Despite being a new technology, crucially, RPA software is neither expensive nor complex compared with some other technologies. RPA tools are also on average, 65% less expensive than employing a full-time worker to do the same task.
Although the financial sector has already embraced RPA to some extent, it is still relatively behind the curve compared to other industries, such as vehicle manufacturing, which has heavily embraced the RPA paradigm since about 2009. In so doing vehicle manufacturing has enjoyed a substantial increase in productivity compared to a small decrease in productivity within financial services since 2009. However, it is worth noting that a complete like-for-like comparison between RPA adoption in vehicle manufacturing (more robotic based) and financial services (more system based) is difficult, due to the distinct nature of each industry. In addition, Financial Services tends to be far more complex than most other industries, given the complexity / multi-layers of persistent legacy systems and the ongoing regulatory demands placed on firms over the past decade which have increased complexity dramatically.
However, the current low rate of RPA adoption within financial services can be considered as an opportunity for the industry, since it gives the sector room to make large improvements, which can be achieved very cost-effectively and without the need for expensive or complex technologies.
Which processes to target first in financial services?
Looking at the characteristics we highlighted earlier of processes that are applicable for RPA adoption, we can begin to prioritise candidate processes that may be suitable within the firm. Some of these processes within financial services may include (but not be limited to):
- Client on-boarding (Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML)
- Performing data enrichment
- Reviewing transaction data
- Adding new securities to systems
- Resolving books and record breaks
- Matching and reconciling securities positions
- Clearing and conveying settled trades
- Reporting current positions
- Monitoring liquidity and reporting exceptions
- …the list really does go on and on!
How do you deploy a secure, scalable, well-controlled RPA platform in your organisation?
The answer is that it has to be a true partnership between Operations (the business) and IT. The IT team will focus on governance, control, compliance, scalability, security and the ‘rules of engagement’ of the RPA. Operations will prioritise having an operating model framework that allows for an extensible platform that can be applied to a number of different processes, with the potential to scale out across the organisation.
RPA provides a different way of thinking about how business processes are ‘solutionised’, delivered and managed in an organisation. The good news is that RPA can utilise the existing software platforms that have already been rolled out to users – platforms that have been tested, validated and integrated into the existing processes of the organisation. This approach proves to provide a more flexible and adaptable solution that is able to keep up with the demands of the business. It also ensures adherence to the compliance and governance requirements of IT.
What are the advantages of RPA?
By adopting RPA, financial services firms will be able to realise a number of benefits:
- Drive operational efficiencies
- Focus on the customer
- Transform customer outcomes / enhance customer experience
- Create cost savings
- Decrease business risk
- Optimise existing processes and systems
- Utilise human talent in better ways
- Increase productivity
- Create scalability
- Empower the business to improve
- Remove demotivating mundane tasks
RPA allows firms to free up people to focus on tasks that are more interesting and more customer focused.
It is apparent that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is not entirely a new concept and has actually been around for number of decades. However, with the more mature technologies currently in the marketplace, RPA technology is now a very strong contender when it comes to transforming processes within the financial services sector.
Furthermore, the traditional gap between the technology division not being able to keep up with ever changing demands of the operations / business divisions, has widened further due to the vast number of regulations that banks have been forced to comply with, which adds to the complexity of the banking system landscape. This new complexity makes it now even more difficult to implement complex IT projects successfully.
Firms that adopt a RPA approach will benefit from:
- Higher levels of accuracy
- Greater consistency
- A ‘right-first-time’ approach
- 24/7 availability
- An instantly scalable solution
To sum up, it is clear that the financial services sector can definitely reap the benefits of RPA to a much greater extent, like a number of other industries have already done, and at a lower cost and complexity compared to most other technologies. Moreover, RPA can be coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) to make it an even more sophisticated and powerful technology (see article: Artificial Intelligence: Why now?)
Of course the additional benefit of RPA is being able to free up people to focus on tasks that are more interesting and more customer focused.
So how ready is your organisation to take the robot out of the human?