Much hype has been generated over Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in recent months. The prospect of a ‘Digital Workforce’ is on everybody’s lips. But just how real is this prospect, and what forces might bring RPA and AI into common use? So far, expectation and reality remain far apart. Dinner conversations amongst the UK’s largest companies shed some valuable light on the pace and direction of take up.
What is perhaps the most interesting insight from such conversations is that AI could be driven by external, consumer driven forces rather than internal corporate endeavours. Almost two years ago the CEO of NVDIA announced that his AI chips were being adopted by leading white goods and car manufacturers across the Globe. At the same time Digital Natives such as Google, Apple, Amazon have been buying up AI companies.
Our view is that such external developments could drive the pace of AI development within large incumbent organisations rather than internal programmes focused on productivity and cost savings.
Delegates to both our recent dinners appeared to be confused about the distinction between RPA and AI.
RPA is a term that was invented by the CTO of Blue Prism, a global leader in this technology. It applies to the automation of simple, predictable processes by applying rule-based procedures. Benefits of RPA programmes include productivity improvements, cost savings and enhanced customer experiences. RPA is often associated with BOTs – software programmes.
AI applies to more complex, variable processes. Despite being 50 years in its inception, AI has only recently broken away from rule-based systems to apply learning algorithms that constantly adapt to external conditions. Digital Natives such as Google have acquired AI companies such as Deep Minds to help make sense of the myriad of data available on the Internet.
AI heralds a new era of personalisation and computer intimacy.
According to IBM we have generated 90% of all data in just the last two years. The challenge today is to convert such data into useable information, or knowledge, from which valuable decisions can be made. In our digital economy ‘information about a transaction can often be more valuable than the transaction itself’. Intelligent Automation can extract commercial value from the many different transaction points that define our lives as consumers – from finance and healthcare to food choice and entertainment. AI has matured to the point now where such value can be extracted.
At the same time, we as managers recognise the waste of human resources in many areas of our working life. We just need to examine how we spend time daily to know that automation could give back hours of valuable time. Public servants such as doctors, police, teachers frequently spend up to 50% of their time on administration rather than performing value-adding tasks. Automation could help double the capacity of our NHS without any additional manpower.
There are many good examples of how Intelligent Automation is generating commercial benefits today. Utilities are applying automation tools to match demand and supply in real time to optimise resources (power stations) and increase profitability. The prospect of distributed power (localised generation through solar energy and wind) will require such tools to balance national power sources.
In healthcare, automated receptions have been introduced in over 100 hospitals in the UK, reducing queues and improving the accuracy of data input. AI is being applied to electronic patient records to identify suitable candidates for clinical trials. This is likely to reduce such trials by months and years as patient gnome records become more widely available.
RPA is being employed in most UK call centres to deal with routine inquiries and to help streamline customer interactions. Here we see BOTs taking over conversations with the occasional human intervention. Natural language recognition is also helping to connect customers directly to computers in an effortless and timely manner.
What are the main obstacles to automation? How might external factors accelerate adoption? What impact can raising automation to a strategic level have? These are some of the questions addressed in the full article available in our app exclusively for CIONET members. Read the full article in our app!
This article was written by Roger Camrass, director of CIONET UK and a visiting professor of the University of Surrey, and is based on conversations during dinners on ‘Intelligent Automation’ sponsored by Blue Prism, Accenture and Deloitte in London this November.