Robotic Process Automation – Myth or Reality

Meanwhile, down on the farm…

When I am in a jovial mood or simply don’t feel like explaining exactly “what it is I do in IT” I will explain that unbeknownst to most people, computers are actually full of tiny monkeys that make the computer work and that my job is to train the monkey that makes the computer beep when there is an error.

This week that description of my job came one step closer to being a reality, but instead of monkeys I’ll be programming robots, and they will be coming soon to a computer near you.  But do not fear that are not coming for your job, they come in peace and only want to make your life easier, your job more enjoyable and you happier. “How” I hear you ask? Well think on this: have you ever found yourself doing a very repetitive task and thinking “a trained monkey could do this and I could then be getting on with everything else I need to be doing?”

Well unfortunately, trained monkeys have never made it to the workplace but a robot can do exactly that!  I am not talking about an actual robot here, rather robotic process automation or RPA, the process of converting repetitive human processes, keystrokes and mouse clicks, into efficient repeatable automated processes.

“But how is that not going to replace me and how is it going to make my life better” you ask?

Well coincidentally, I turned the news on this morning and there was a report about autonomous tractors and the benefits to UK farmers. For starters the autonomous tractors can work 24hrs a day if need be and secondly the technology they use to navigate is inch perfect, that is the tractor can position itself within an inch of any given point. It is estimated that with this accuracy, which a human could not achieve, autonomous tractors can unlock currently unused land from existing farmland. That’s not new land, that is land that is part of existing fields that is not used.  The extra crops could mean up to an extra £9000 per year for a farmer according to the report.

Now think how that could relate to your job. Your employer has a number of finite resources at their disposal such as the number of employees and the time available to them each day to do their jobs. What would it mean to an employer if the same number of employees (no one is getting let go here) could be even 10% more productive or put another way, what would it mean to an employer and their employees if they could do everything they normally do in a day, with 48 minutes to spare at the end of the day. 48 minutes extra to polish tomorrow’s presentation and win that big contract, 48 minutes to call back that customer who was about to drop you for another supplier.

And 10% is just an example. Just based on being able to work 24hrs a day RPA is 66.666% more efficient than a human.  Factor in weekends, sick leave and holidays and RPA is over 75% more efficient. And that’s assuming RPA worked at the same speed as a human and had to go back and correct the sort of mistakes a human might make. Factor in increased speed and near error free operation and depending on the task RPA could be 15 times more efficient than a human, what does that look? That’s a robot completing 8 human hours of work before 09.32am, assuming it started work at the same time as its human colleagues.  If it started at midnight, it would have done 17 human days of work by 9am.

What could you as an employee be doing to benefit your employer if you are not doing mundane repetitive tasks day in and day out? Could you be learning new skills, could you maybe work reduced hours for the same pay? Would that not make you happier?