Shelly Kramer of Futurum Research dispels our fears that robotic process automation will make people redundant and why embracing a culture of automation is crucial in today’s business setting.
Editor’s note: This interview with Shelly Kramer was recorded for Coding Over Cocktails - a podcast by Toro Cloud.
Over the last decade, a shift has been observed in how organisations manage their businesses in order to create a more efficient and agile environment. Integrating technologies and changing organisational behaviour play vital roles in this shift.
Digital transformation has become vital for businesses - even more so in this pandemic. In the 2020 Digital Transformation Index by Futurum Research, 88% of organisations described their digital transformation initiatives as “generally average or above average” - a jump from 2019’s 84%. Significantly, “laggards or slow adopters” dropped to 11% from the previous year’s 16% as well.
One of the common initiatives of digital transformation is the automation of manual processes. Reducing human effort by automating processes and decisions can not only accelerate workflows but can also enhance the accuracy and consistency of their output.
The concept and business value of automation is not new. In fact, according to Futurum Research Lead Analyst Shelly Kramer, digital transformation processes - including automation - were something they were already focused on helping their clients with well before the term “digital transformation” was coined.
“We've been elbows deep in actually navigating digital transformation with our clients for a decade or more. And we saw that there was a dearth of research and analyst firms focusing solely on digital transformation,” she shares in an episode of Coding Over Cocktails.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Gartner defines RPA as a “productivity tool that allows a user to configure one or more scripts (which some vendors refer to as “bots”) to activate specific keystrokes in an automated fashion.” Once deployed in a business process, RPA can mirror specific tasks such as executing transactions or triggering responses.
Kramer explains that RPA shares similarities with business process automation (BPA).
“I really think they're basically one and the same in many ways. There are some differentiators, but basically what you're talking about when it comes to RPA is you're talking about looking throughout the processes that your team engages in and figuring out what can be automated.” she explains.
One of the main differentiators between BPA and RPA are their objectives when integrated. While BPA aims to simplify all work processes and help make faster and accurate decisions in the organisation, RPA aims to replace redundant and repetitive human tasks with software. RPA does not interfere with the existing business processes and can be integrated with BPA software.
A common misconception surrounding RPA is that it’s going to make people redundant. Kramer says that this isn’t necessarily so.
“Is it true that in some instances, jobs will no longer be needed because automation can replace that particular job function? Sure. Does that necessarily mean that thousands and thousands of employees will be without jobs? No, absolutely not.” she argues.
In the best use-case, Kramer says that RPA is simply technology and humans working together in order to make the organisation and its processes more agile and efficient. She adds that realising the potential of RPA opens opportunities to make jobs more rewarding and frees people from the mundane and repeatable tasks that are better off automated.
Moreover, implementing RPA does not have to be the exclusive domain of the I.T. department.
“You don't have to be a software engineer to be able to develop your own automations. Then you start having this cadre of citizen developers and citizen evangelists who are learning this, and who are excited about it and who are experienced about it and who are teaching others within the organisation. These are the really cool things we could do.”
Getting the most out of RPA
According to Camunda’s State of Automation 2020, automation is a great contributor to an organisation’s success. With driving factors such as remote working and the pandemic, 84% of respondents say they plan to increase their investment in process automation.
In fact, even during a global crisis, Gartner reports that the adoption of “hyperautomation technologies” including RPA continued a steady rise in 2020, with 75% of organisations saying they’ve continued investing in them and are beginning their adoption.
To get the most out of RPA, Kramer says that organisations must be willing to up their game and see for themselves how much automation can accelerate their processes.
“If you want your business to stay alive regardless of what your business is, or the size of your business, everybody has to shift and everybody has to learn the importance of being agile and embracing technology that could actually help power the business.” she says.
According to Kramer, the industries that were quick to adopt RPA are the banking and finance industries.
“Businesses of every size were rapidly contacting their banks, figuring out how they could apply, trying to do everything they needed to do. These banks and financial institutions were weathering a pandemic in just the same way everyone else was, and all of their people were working from home.” she says.
Kramer says that automation has helped financial institutions create faster processes for them to meet the needs of their clients during the pandemic.
“What we saw was an increased use of automation. So, those tsunamis of applications that were flooding in could quickly be processed. And those people who were desperate - literally desperate - for funds to keep their businesses afloat and their families fed were able to get the help that they needed.”
Efficiency aside, bots can also improve accuracy. Reduced human input reduces the room for human error. RPA helps mitigate the risks of data inaccuracy and duplication.
Kramer adds that adopting a “culture of automation” sets up a company for a good start on their digital transformation. According to the State of Automation 2020 report, a whopping 97% of important enterprise IT decision makers agree that process automation is imperative in digital transformation.
“I think that there's no difference between creating a culture of automation to creating a culture that is conducive to facilitating digital transformation.”
Taking RPA to the next level
Whilst a majority of organisations understand that RPA can benefit them, Futurum states that RPA is not without challenges. According to their research, adoption is slowing down as organisations find it difficult to scale beyond back-of-house or front-of-house solutions.
“I do know that that is a very real challenge, with some of the biggest players in the automation space just getting enterprises beyond that, those initial deployments and how do we scale it more broadly throughout the enterprise.” she explains.
She also adds that equipping a workforce with new skills and allowing opportunities for continuous learning can help foster the culture of automation in the organisation.
“It’s about being curious. It’s about fostering continuous learning and upskilling. And upskilling is a tremendous, tremendous part of this and looking within your organisation and how you can move people from here to having knowledge about how to use automation offerings and a data-driven culture.”
You can learn more about RPA and the culture of automation in our discussion with Shelly Kramer on Coding Over Cocktails - a podcast by Toro Cloud.
This podcast series tackles issues faced by enterprises as they manage the process of digital transformation, application integration, low-code application development, data management, and business process automation. It’s available for streaming in most major podcast platforms, including Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.