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How to wow the board with the power of robots

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The digital era has created a new technology cycle that is being called the fourth industrial revolution in terms of its likely impact on how we work and live.

Within organisations, the sheer volume of data available and the ever-increasing number of sources it comes from can be overwhelming and existing practices around streamlining business process are now being extended to automating data management.

The stages of automation

There are various stages to automation in this context. These show a progression from collecting structured data via software robots as a Robotic Process Automation (RPA), to using it for analytical and even advisory work. RPA has historically been capable of following simple, fixed rules to operate the software robots, but advances mean that Intelligent or Cognitive Automation can provide increasingly broad Robo Advice.

Robots deployed via RPA have been evolving over the past decade and can do a variety of simple tasks, from merging data from different sources to standardising it, performing lookups or extracting it to create dashboards. They are often used to replace people manually inputting or transferring data between files or systems. This increases speed, accuracy and the frequency with which this can take place, as well as its auditable nature. It also frees workers up to add greater value, although a tension remains as to what work they will do over time.

On the advanced end of the spectrum in a business context, the Wealth Management sector has the ability to use robots to provide risk analysis, aid or even take investment decisions. Customer-facing areas are also exploring these technologies and for example, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 40% of customer-facing employees and government workers will consult an AI-powered virtual agent every day for decision-making or process related support. Major players such as Google are both investors and operators and their investment plans make it clear that expanding the use of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a high priority for them.

Responding to the new technology cycle

Significant investment is being made in automation as organisations test how they can best respond to the new technology cycle. Strategic aims may be to focus on increasing productivity and eliminating errors from computer and rules-based repetitive tasks, or equally to harness the power of the data they have to drive improved business performance.

Unless an organisation has a clear mandate to aim straight for an enterprise-wide automation, employees are often the ones who can point to low-value repetitive tasks that could be good candidates for a smaller-scale trial. Testing and learning on a low risk process can pay dividends, especially if that trial allows the organisation to focus on company culture and change management at the same time.

Scaling Robotic Process Automation

Managing the fear factor that can be generated from testing RPA is a significant consideration. A 2017 survey by Deloitte of 400 respondents found that although 53% of the respondents had already embarked on an RPA journey and a further 19% of respondents planned to adopt RPA in the next two years, only 3% of organisations had managed to scale RPA to a level of 50 or more robots. When asked why this was, process standardisation and change management were reported as the main challenges in the proof of concept and pilot stages.

Nevertheless, respondents remained optimistic about robotics. Among those that had already implemented RPA, 78% expected to significantly increase investment in RPA over the next three years, with those piloting RPA planning to spend an average of $1.5m on it. Organisations that had implemented or scaled across the enterprise had already invested an average of $3.5m in robotics.

Managing the fear factor

Given the challenge of introducing robots to an organisation where employees are nervous of change, a key way to progress is to get the executive team on board. A perfect combination for them to see the benefits of Robo Advice is to trial something low risk that directly improves their own ability to manage the health of the business. In doing so, the aim is to generate top-down advocacy that crosses organisational silos.

New insights into Organisational Health

Trialling Robo Advice that uncovers new insights into Organisational Health could have a dramatic impact on performance in a very short space of time. Consultants McKinsey say focusing on Organisational Health (OH) demonstrably brings performance advantage. They have been benchmarking companies in this area for 10 years and in a recent publication they set out that the central idea underlying their organisational work has been that the best way to run a business is to balance short-term performance and long-term health.

They now see new, longitudinal evidence that redoubles their conviction that companies that work on their health, not only achieve measurable improvements in their organisational well-being but demonstrate tangible performance gains in as little as 6 to 12 months. This holds true for companies across sectors and regions, as well as in contexts ranging from turnarounds to good-to-great initiatives.

Trialling already-available Robo Advice in the field of OH would also lower the risk and increase the speed of implementation. Although developing capability in house may be a medium-term solution, the availability of licenses and support means that a scalable solution exists where others have taken the development risk. Equally such a trial would be internally-facing and allow employees the chance to start to see automation in practice. It would be a positive addition to the analytics available, rather than being perceived as an overt attempt to cut headcount.

Developing an enterprise automation roadmap

The digital era is making us all more digitally savvy and accepting of the use of robots to in our daily lives. For those looking to trial automation, selecting something that is already a game-changer in terms of its simplicity of deployment and depth of Robo Advice would allow senior executives to quickly grasp the benefits it would bring. From this it opens up a wider strategic conversation about automation across the organisation to help support the development of an enterprise automation roadmap.

Footdown is the first Robo Adviser for rapid, non-disruptive organisational health analysis, insight and action planning. Contact us today on 01225 465 640

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