RPA is not the only tool but it’s a core component of an automation ecosystem.
Global Business Services (GBS) is a centre for optimisation, how far you take the technology and automation potential will determine how optimised you can be. The greatest value is achieved by putting an automation lens on top and being able to optimise processes using new technologies.
With the advent of automation and in particular Robotic Process Automation (RPA), we now have new capabilities that were not there before. Traditional shared services tried to optimise around the edges, where the system of record didn’t do what was required of it, with things like excel macros. It was done by having fairly standard processes, trying to make them systematic and hiring staff to do very dull repetitive tasks around the edges of those technologies.
We now have Robotic Process Automation, a more industrial strength, enterprise-ready service that can do a lot of the automation and bridge the gaps between systems. With GBS, the whole reason for being is to bring services together, to share them and to optimise them.
In many cases these services span different systems, for example, if a finance function is doing invoice processing, they could come in by email and then there is a separate step of talking that invoice in and putting it in to your payment system. Ideally, this entire process would be automated in your ERP/Finance system, but in reality that is often not the case. To compensate, and deliver this service you would have someone in your shared service monitoring an inbox, looking at the invoice, taking it and re-key it into the payment system for processing.
We now have an alternative technology option. RPA sits between the systems, monitoring the inbox so when an invoice comes in, it opens it and takes out the relevant information, logs in to the payment system and completes the task in a fraction of the time. Additionally RPA can be delivered in weeks, and not months, making it a very attractive option for optimising tedious work.
The market has noticed, and according to Gartner, RPA was the fastest growing category of software last year, growing by 63 per cent. While we use the word ‘process’ automation, in reality ‘task’ automation is more accurate, you can still have people involved in the process but 70-80 per cent of the tasks are automated. The question you should pose is that if you’re not doing this, you’re probably losing a competitive edge, because your competitors probably are.
RPA is not the only tool but it’s a core component of an automation ecosystem. From EY’s own experience of our global automation program around 65 per cent of the use cases are still rules based, very dull repetitive tasks with the remaining 35 per cent made up of analytics and cognitive use cases – the latter being where you start to deploy AI for certain parts of the automation; the convergence of which has been classed by the industry as Intelligent Automation.
The other reason RPA has taken hold is that it is not just for IT systems professionals, they are user friendly enough to allow most professionals to potentially do it themselves. The best place to start is with a pilot or a proof of concept, most people who work in a function can recognise a really tedious, inefficient process, it’s actually just tackling that rather than putting a big strategy behind it.
This is not necessarily about removing people from the process, it’s actually the removal of tedious labour. Rather than just thinking about what is inefficient, organisations should be thinking about what their people don’t like doing, and asking them to define those tasks. It’s not about removing headcount, it’s about optimising people better and creating higher value where real cognitive skills are required.