Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

Productivity up, job losses down

Industrial robot arm working in store room

No, not the latest hyped economic outlook but a new report that says more companies are using robotic process automation for mundane tasks, freeing up staff to take on more value-adding and productive roles.

The march of the robots is gathering pace but is your job safe? According to the latest ISG Automation Index from IT-consultancy, ISG, 72% of companies will use Robotic Process Automation (RPA) by 2019 to automate support functions. Automation is enabling enterprises to execute business processes up to ten times faster, reducing resource needs by 37%.

But the report claims that RPA is “not yet leading to broad job losses” as companies take the opportunity to divert employees towards more value-adding and productive roles.

Increasing productivity

The average full-time equivalent (FTE) reduction from RPA ranges from 43% for order-to-cash processes (billing, cash application, credit, collections and pricing) to 32% for hire-to-retire HR processes (benefits, payroll, recruiting and talent management, and vendor management systems).

“In nearly every scenario we analysed, increased productivity through task automation stands out as the most important change – not job loss,” notes Stanton Jones, Director and Principal Analyst, ISG Research, and co-author of the report.

“Humans are working alongside software robots, be they virtual agents or engineers, to increase their ability to take more customer calls, resolve more service desk tickets and process more invoices.

“This improved productivity is seeing important downstream effects: increasing operational speed and scalability, improving compliance and avoiding future costs. Our data indicates these benefits apply to both enterprises and service providers.”

Major points of impact

RPA excels in the automation of routine processes where business rules are clear and mature, explains Jones. “This means that areas like order to cash, general accounting, quote creation and reporting – all of which have very clear business processes – are very good candidates for RPA.”

Most routine jobs are made up of many tasks. Today RPA is focused on the automation of many, but not all, of those tasks. “Companies are not yet able to free up entire roles – instead, they are using the increased capacity to add more volume or focus more on customer interaction,” notes Jones.

However, he adds, “as more and more tasks are automated, it will absolutely lead to entire roles being automated, but we are not there today.” Indeed, even as this happens, he feels that automation will create jobs as market opportunities are addressed more quickly and the cost of production is lowered.

Advance robot

Today RPA is focused on automating routine tasks – and it performs these tasks faster, and more consistently than humans. Over the next 24 months, RPA technologies will increasingly add a “learning” capability – meaning, bots [automated web robots] will get smarter.

“Rather than being told specifically where to find an invoice number, they will find it on their own, based on learning the most likely position of the number,” explains Jones. “But this learning will take months, if not years to accomplish, because it requires lots of data. But once these systems learn, they never forget, and never make the same mistake twice.”

Some concerns

Even with such developments and the high projected uptake of RPA by 2019, the report says there are barriers to adoption.

In most cases, it is internal IT that puts the hold on projects, not financial considerations, says Jones. “There are still many concerns within organisations about granting permissions and access to software-based bots over humans,” he notes. Your job, it seems, is safe, for now.

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