In today’s landscape of rapid changes and innovative technologies, modern organisations need to take on a new approach that will help them meet the demands of the digital world. More than ever, organisations today are under immense pressure to digitise and automate all aspects of their operations, including vital business processes that often require long hours of manual data entry.
To address this, organisations have started exploring the adoption of technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which automates business processes, usually with the aid of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools. According to the 2017 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, nearly half (46%) of all CIOs in Asia Pacific are currently investing in or are planning to invest in RPA to automate highly repeatable, highly structured tasks across business software systems.
A study by Accenture revealed that AI could nearly double Singapore’s annual economic growth rates from 3.2% to 5.4% by 2035 and increase the country’s labour productivity by 41% by that same year – which is higher than US (35%) and Japan (34%). In light of the economic benefits of AI, Singapore recently launched a national programme, AI Singapore, to help lower the barriers to AI and RPA adoption as many companies, regardless of size, struggle understanding what RPA is basically about.
Introducing robots to the workplace
RPA can be described as ‘software robots’ that gather and update information in other business software applications by automating actions against their existing user interfaces. In other words, where there is work based around routine data entry and retrieval from software applications, RPA can automate this task by mimicking application operators’ actions with specialised software agents.
In light of this, organisations with many different, complicated systems that need to mesh together make good candidates for RPA. In fact, across major industries, such as finance, insurance, manufacturing, banking and utilities, RPA is being used as part of a company’s digital transformation strategy to automate burdensome, high-volume and time-consuming business processes.
According to Juniper Research, the market value of banking RPA in 2018 is expected to expand over four times from $214 million to $900 million by 2020. The firm highlights the far-reaching potential for RPA in the banking industry and predicts that banking and financial services will represent 34% of the global RPA market by 2022. In fact, IDC predicted that 40% of banking and insurance companies in Asia Pacific will be using RPA by 2020.
With eight in 10 consumers in Singapore open to robo-advisory services for their banking, insurance and retirement planning according to a study by Accenture, leading banks in Singapore have been quick to embrace RPA and robo-advisors to provide enhanced customer experience and service levels.
UOB, for example, announced the introduction of two new virtual employees, Amy and Eve, last year, to help employees take on tasks considered to be repetitive and time-consuming. Since deployment, Amy and Eve have cut the transaction processing time by more than half and have freed up employees’ time to focus on more stimulating and challenging roles.
Beyond reducing processing times, RPA could prove to be a smart move for non- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliant companies to stay on track. GDPR compliance among businesses in ASEAN countries, including Singapore, is critical, given the European Union’s (EU) status as the largest foreign investor in ASEAN countries and ASEAN’s second largest trading partner accounting for about 13% of trade in the region.
As things stand, only 10% of Singapore companies have a GDPR compliance plan in place, according to EY. With RPA, more organisations will have a dedicated digital worker programmed to record, analyse, and present data in a way that maintains GDPR compliance whilst eliminating any risks of human error.
Rise of the digital work force
For many organisations across all industries, RPA is a game changer. As the value of RPA and the potential for tangible business benefits become increasingly apparent, more and more organisations are realising the significance of adding RPA to their business strategy. However, as organisations prepare to adopt RPA, it is also important to explore potential implications for employees.
In an age where technology seemingly reigns supreme, people remain to be a company’s greatest asset. After all, disruptive technologies and business models are fueled by people, not robots. RPA technology implementation is a business change exercise, affecting how people do their jobs.
A large part of Singapore’s Smart Nation vision involves empowering citizens and creating more jobs and opportunities for them by harnessing digital technologies. For this initiative to be successful, it is crucial for employers to ensure that their employees are aptly prepared for upcoming changes, when these technologies are deployed.
Organisation leaders need to think about the people-change implications right from the start of an RPA project – understanding who will most likely be affected and how. Employees, particularly those in IT and clerical teams, have to be briefed on how RPA has the potential to help them get more done in less time and also allow them to offload tasks to robots so more focus can be put on how customers might be better served better.
Driving digital transformation through RPA
One of the most common motivations to pursue digital transformation initiatives is using digital technologies to drive new, improved customer experiences. According to IDC, 77% of organisations in Singapore place a high importance on digital transformation, with customer retention (22%) cited as a top driver.
However, the underlying strategic issue here is that focusing digital transformation initiatives only on the ‘front edge’ of customer interactions opens up significant risk – because true customer experience excellence only comes from joined-up behaviour and outcomes across the whole of a customer’s journey with an organisation.
RPA can help connect digitally-powered customer experiences to existing business processes – whilst also bridging gaps between functional silos; it can also act as a foundation on which some customer requests and transaction types can be handled in an automated way through online customer service portals or chatbot channels.
Moreover, because RPA technology is non-invasive, RPA projects have the potential to be delivered much more quickly and at significantly lower cost. RPA is just one tool organisations should maintain as part of their digital transformation toolkit.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Jigar is the Vice President, Solution Architecture for Asia & China of Software AG. He is a seasoned technology professional with substantial experience in helping customers to drive better operational efficiencies using middleware, process analysis and automation, in-memory and streaming analytics solutions.
He has around 18 years of IT experience gained in providing business solution predominantly in Banking and Financial Services. Apart from that, he also covers Manufacturing and Government. In recent years, he has played key role in pre-sales capacity for securing new business in application middleware and process automation space.
Prior to Software AG, he worked at Logica (now CGI) in solutions consulting capacity providing business solutions in Banking Space based on Enterprise Applications.