The Robots are Coming

You've heard of robots assembling car parts in manufacturing plants. Now we have software robots doing computer desktop work in corporate contact centers, finance offices and elsewhere.

The Robots are Coming

The Robots are Coming

John Carroll

John Carroll

John Carroll is a writer and editor at TSYS who follows and writes about the payments industry. He has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing content for various news, marketing and technical channels.

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You've heard of robots assembling car parts in manufacturing plants. Now we have software robots doing computer desktop work in corporate contact centers, finance offices and elsewhere in back offices as companies focus on speed, quality and costs.

The technology behind the emerging movement is called robotic process automation (RPA), and it is being implemented in a wide range of industries such as financial services, manufacturing and, yes, payments.

"RPA is basically helping to eliminate the repetitive, robotic work that employees carry out in their daily work," said Homan Haghighi, an RPA specialist at ISG, a technology consulting firm in London. "It takes the robot out of the human."

Use cases for RPA

According to Haghighi, RPA is best suited for any company that uses labor on a large scale for general knowledge process work, where people are performing high-volume, highly transactional job functions.

More specifically, RPA is what some large corporations are using in their accounting offices. It's what some insurance companies are deploying to process claims. And it's what some payment companies are using in their contact centers to process transactions such as fraud chargebacks, account closures and cardholder adjustments.

Reinventing How Work Gets Done

"Any process that is definable, repeatable and rules-based is a candidate for RPA," said Frank Casale, founder and chairman emeritus of the Institute of Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPAAI). "RPA is a reinvention of how work gets done."

New contact center technology

If implemented properly in a contact center, RPA can result in high-performing human-robot teams in which software robots and agents complement one another. In practice, RPA is limited to back-office, downstream activities initiated by the agent.

"The robots do the more mundane, repetitive tasks, while people do the high value-added jobs," said Sabyasachi A. Roy, RPA practice director at Accenture in London. "You have physical operators and virtual operators. That is where the world is going, and it takes proper orchestration between the two types of workers."

Most RPA technology mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a task within a work process. The technology can do repetitive tasks more quickly, accurately and tirelessly than humans, freeing them to do other work that requires cognitive skills such as reasoning and judgment.

"Robots can work 24 hours a day and seven days a week, if needed," said Haghighi. "They are very efficient and they don’t make mistakes."

RPA is not cognitive computing, artificial intelligence or natural language processing, he emphasized.

"With RPA, the robot doesn't try to interpret anything or understand things," said Haghighi. "It handles the boring work that employees do so they can focus on other things like talking to customers or helping to resolve problems."

Taking the Robot Out of the Human

Widespread adoption

Interest in RPA has spiked in the last two years, according to IRPAAI's Casale. Today, surveys show that RPA is a top priority for global business leaders.

In a recent survey of companies by the IRPAAI, more than 70 percent of respondents said they were currently utilizing RPA and 66 percent said they were either expanding their current implementation or thinking about it. Nearly 70 percent said their RPA spending would increase in the next 12 months.

"There has been rapid growth and acceptance of advanced automation," said Casale.

Benefits and challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing RPA is the lack of understanding or lack of education that business leaders have about the technology. Casale also cited the challenge of dealing with human workers who may feel threatened by RPA.

"There is the fear of the unknown and fear of change," said Casale. "People are resistant to change. So there is push back from management."

The benefits of RPA include improved compliance, less human errors, better customer service, reduced workload pressure and decreased business process complexity.

"The more business processes are automated and digitized, the more streamlined, faster and accurate the process becomes, which results in a greater experience for the end user," said Casale.

If implemented properly, Haghighi said RPA can shrink employee turnover rates and reduce recruitment expenses.

"RPA is about employee satisfaction and making the business run better and smoother," said Haghighi. "The mundane, repetitive work is removed from employees so they can do more value-added work."

Ultimately, RPA enables organizations to more effectively automate tasks, streamline processes, increase employee productivity, and deliver more satisfying customer experiences. Forward-thinking business leaders are paying attention to RPA because the technology has the potential to computerize a variety of repeatable and rules-based processes and free up employees to do more cognitive work.

The statements and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of TSYS.

Other Articles by John

John Carroll

John Carroll is a writer and editor at TSYS who follows and writes about the payments industry. He has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing content for various news, marketing and technical channels. His articles have published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the Daily Report and Georgia Trend.

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