This year is expected to be all about the acceleration of the process to replace people with robotics and automation – but are we really that close to seeing robots as fellow employees in the financial services sector, and, if so, how will it actually work?
In reality, it is already working. Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is technology that allows employees to configure computer software or a robot to capture and interpret existing applications.
From automating middle and back-end business and management processes, through delivering technical capabilities in support of end-users and customers, we are now moving towards software that has the ability to automatically run robots 24/7, 365 days a year, that mimic human actions via front-end user interfaces.
But how close is widespread adoption across financial services?
A sudden seismic shift in the makeup of the financial services sector’s workforce, whereby teams of robots work round the clock without making mistakes or taking breaks, completely displacing humans, is unlikely in the near term.
Instead, now the potential benefits have been recognised, particularly in areas such as customer experience and project scalability, steady progress in both the quality and adoptability of RPA is expected.
However, in contrast to many media reports claiming that robots are coming to take all our jobs, this evolution of automation will require more human input rather than less – at least in the short term.
Decisions will need to be taken as to exactly which processes robots can carry out, as not all activities will suit automation. Ill-defined processes will not only generate inefficiency, but also lead to mistakes, and the initial outlay in terms of financial cost and human time will need to be weighed up against the future benefits.
Firms will need to ask questions, like does the input have a defined structure? Is it a standardised process? Does the process have to be replicated in multiple geographical locations? Does it require 24/7 support?
All this, while taking into account the fact that, currently, robots primarily demonstrate intelligence based on a limited set of parameters.
In addition, highly skilled individuals will be required to set up and code the technology to make the machines operate along the defined rules or processes.
While a robot may be very good at carrying out the exact task it has been trained to do within defined parameters, the evolution to operate outside such guidelines is infinitely more complex. The day will come when machines can evolve themselves, but it is not on the immediate horizon for anything but structured manual and repeatable processes.
Handing these tasks over to robots will free up individuals to carry out other higher-value tasks, but the same initial set-up process of deciding, defining and designing will be required to ensure the processes reach the correct outcome and make economic sense for the organisation involved.
In effect, the intention behind RPA implementation is to ensure that organisations are more efficient. The trick is for an organisation to utilise both robots and humans in the workforce, using human employees in areas that add value and delegating the repetitive tasks to automated machines.
Even once the robots are in action, the role of the human is not obsolete. Just as an employee requires a mentor or a boss, robots require support and supervision to ensure that any issues which may impact the process – such as network failure, a bot crash due to error, or exceptions in the operations – can be quickly dealt with.
One last thing to consider is that RPA is not a panacea. It cannot be used to paper over the cracks of ill-defined or badly-created business or technology architecture, and without the correct planning, implementation and ongoing support, any automation is likely to fail.
As with any change, thorough planning and an appropriate end goal is essential if it is to succeed.
So rather than a wholesale shift in 2018 to robots taking over the workforce, there will be a continuation along the path of collaboration.
While the benefits of implementing RPA or other automated technologies into a business are significant, the key thing to note is that robots cannot work alone.
They need humans to tell them how to work – and this is where the real revolution in robotics is likely to come. Not from automation alone or from humans alone, but from the two collaborating on developing technologies with the aim of improving efficiency and profitability while reducing costs and manual errors.
This is how businesses will be staffed in the future.