ROBOPOCALYPSE NOW?! – Preparing for the Art of the Possible

Forward to Normal

With our emergence from quarantine, attention has naturally turned acutely to life and business within the context of a new normal. A long and severe recession, job losses and business closures are among the expected effects of COVID-19, to be felt for a long time to come.
Business owners therefore face tough times and decisions ahead in the need to craft strategies for their survival and eventually, to hopefully thrive again.

Service Automation technologies (robotic, cognitive and augmented) are predicted to become increasingly important in helping organisations become more resilient and leaner to cope with the challenges ahead with a projected steep rise in the deployment of process automation, potentially replacing jobs lost through COVID-19, which may never return. But, is now the time right to embark upon, or scale-up, a service automation journey?

An important starting point for thinking about the future of work is the fact that, in the past, many others have worried in similar ways about what lies ahead – and been very wrong” – A World Without Work: Daniel Susskind.

Truth is Constant

Only time will tell how accurate these predictions are, however, looking back to what was either driving-on or holding-back organisations from adopting process automation pre-pandemic, reveals much of the same truths then, as now.

Many companies still don’t know what RPA or CA is, nor how it might benefit them, but this will inevitably continue to change.

Those organisations who had begun an automation journey were either still taking baby steps or considering how to truly scale…and perhaps still didn’t have a solid “why” (read our previous blog).

Those who were already scaling, will no doubt look to continue, but with the addition of more intelligent cognitive technologies embedded into the fabric of the solutions to drive even greater benefit and human augmentation.

In truth, many things haven’t changed: If deployed correctly, RPA is still an enabler of organisational resilience, business continuity and risk mitigation (see our previous post), and RPA can still cost-effectively perform a great many manual tasks faster and without error, and the rate of success is constantly improving. If you’re reading this and still unsure what RPA is, read our previous post for an introduction.

A Helping Robotic Hand

“In business, since lithe trumps lumbering during times of rapid change, agility will be the biggest advantage” – The Future is Faster Than You Think: Diamandis & Kotler.

Preparing for the new normal and crafting a path to recovery will therefore be a familiar story for all organisations, but success may depend not only on what courses of action to pursue, but how to deliver them. RPA & CA technologies may hold a significant key to help accelerate or enable those plans in several ways, some possible examples include:

  • Reduce or contain ongoing costs of operational processes and improve productivity by eliminating manual effort and speeding up tasks
  • Increase agility to weather the downturn and manage uncertainty in growth and demand using machine learning modelling to enhance predictions and generate response options
  • Equip teams with tools to optimise processes rapidly and incrementally with control using democratised citizen bot developers and technologies
  • Accelerate the adoption and deployment of digital transformation strategies and manage unstructured data
  • Simplify customer interactions, reduce operational effort and improve the customer experience across conversational and document-based processes in particular
  • Optimise home-working operations and the hand-off of work between humans and bots

Seize the Opportunity Now

The time is definitely right to look for opportunities and candidates beyond the normal and typical, especially more front-office, customer facing processes, as these may offer not only significant productivity gains, but also customer experience improvements and therefore competitive advantage.

An appealing opportunity may include automating a number of smaller tasks and activities that individually wouldn’t pass a typical business case review but combined under a Service Automation programme will not only become technially and operationally feasible but begin to make sense financially too.

For companies already on a service automation journey, the time is right and the stakes high enough, to accelerate the pace and scale across the wider organisation and to incorporate cognitive technologies to augment both robots and humans for a hyper-productivity boost.

The time may also be right to re-examine the operational governance framework that may have been kicking around since the programme began, to ensure roles and responsibilities are clear, duplication of work avoided, and development opportunities are optimised with reusable robotic commodities.

Many employees and companies will be worried about the loss of jobs, and although this may be a reality for some, the opportunity to redeploy resources with valuable knowledge of the company, its products/services and customers, may truly benefit everyone by exploiting those qualities with a change of focus in a new role. An example of this is in customer facing teams working in call centres or from home, who have had to adjust their working practices and may need to adopt even more efficient, customer-centric procedures in future. Taking advantage of service automation technologies wherever possible, could help to maximise human-to-human interaction and optimise human-to-robot opportunities like never before.

Now is the Time

Returning to the original question posted at the start of this article: is this the right time to begin or scale a service automation programme? – in short, yes or to put another way, if not now, when? Survival is fundamental, new competitive pressures and demands will arise and evolve with the continuance of Brexit, as will new opportunities. Customer experience will dictate creativity to retain their loyalty, so adding value to the front-line of your business is essential to add value to the bottom-line.

“If the only constant is change, the pace of change is accelerating” – The Future is Faster Than You Think: Diamandis & Kotler.

Lawrence & Wedlock are service automation specialists, making the art of the possible as simple and straight forward as possible for their clients.