Covid-19 has changed the world we knew—some for the better; some for the worse. As the second wave continues virulently in India, we see industries have been finding ways to function and carry out business as usual across sectors.
Automation is the key that has helped educators and the students; bankers and customers; sellers and buyers, to name a few. It has pervaded all aspects of our lifestyles and working patterns. We can now access our bank accounts or make transactions without physically paying a visit to the branch; students can learn remotely via online classes; groceries are delivered at our doorsteps; work from home has been possible for almost a year now. Patients can now tele-consult doctors, and they can attend to patients immediately by making use of technology. All of these use cases are just the tip of the iceberg of automation potential.
The Automation Journey Triggered by COVID
Organizations have started to understand the manifold benefits of automation, especially what robotic process automation (RPA) can provide. Owing to this knowledge coupled with the recent necessity to keep the lights on during the current pandemic, organizations have already initiated the automation journey. What’s next? Let’s take a look at the various levels of automation in this journey.
Level 1 – Digitization
Covid has helped accelerate businesses with their level-1 journey, which involves, among many:
- How to digitize information?
- How to operate remotely?
- How to maintain infrastructure remotely?
But this is just the beginning. The automation journey should not and would not stop here.
Level 2 – RPA and Workflow Automation
From a digitization wave, enterprises should move on to focus on building workflows to route the digitized process using business process management (BPM)/workflow technologies. For example, if you are onboarding an employee, the process involves verifying documents, creating employee records in HRMS, finance and IT systems, providing access to appropriate systems, creating payroll and so on.
For organizations that manage such a process, a solution involving workflow, BPM and or RPA can be a godsend. Using these systems, users can precisely know where the bottlenecks are, how long does the process take, etc.
Level 3 – Cognitive RPA
While level 2 focuses on augmenting human workers’ capabilities, organizations at the 3rd level of the automation journey try to eliminate the step via automation. Instead of a human performing such an operation, what if a bot or the AI engine opens the email, reads the attachments, extracts the necessary information, provisions the IDs and payroll all by itself?
We attribute the term ‘Cognitive RPA’ to the use of RPA and AI. The power of Cognitive RPA is such that these powerful systems can front-end many tasks and can take the help of humans only if they are unable to complete the tasks!
Human operators are freed from doing those mundane tasks and can take up more meaningful tasks such as negotiating with a prospect or attending to customer issues. Beyond automating high-volume repetitive tasks that are time-consuming, these bots combine the prowess of AI and don the hat of cognitive RPA bots. The cognitive bots in turn can read documents, interpret images (e.g. facial recognition), predict customer churn, or even pay invoices all by themselves with minimal supervision by the humans.
Organizations can provide round-the-clock assistance via digital workers. Such advancement in the sphere of automation and self-service is possible through technologies under the banner of hyper-automation such as RPA, artificial intelligence, analytics, optical character recognition (OCR), etc.
Here are some more examples: insurance companies streamline paperwork for claims processing using OCR/RPA technologies. Face recognition AI models help onboard banking customers; RPA bots help crunch patient data into electronic medical record (EMR) systems at warp speed making it efficient to scale in the wake of the huge spike in demand. The list is endless. In every walk of life, we find automation companies and their software helping organizations aid adapting to the new ways of life.
Increased RPA Adoption
According to a Forrester study, 48% of organizations expect to increase their spend on RPA in 2021 by five per cent or more. The market for RPA and full-stack automation products such as Blue Prism, UiPath, Appian, Abbyy, Google AI, and other vendors is booming. Armed with faster go-to-market capabilities, these low-code-driven automation platforms pretty much help bridge the sudden gap that has arisen due to the pandemic.
The Indian RPA market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of above 20% between 2019 and 2025. This is mainly driven by the need to manage processes and automate accounting. Other major reasons for the adoption can be attributed to the ability of digital workers to perform tasks error-free coupled with speedy and productive results.
In the context of the pandemic, RPA bots work 365 days even if it’s the second wave. The government has already been leveraging the power of automation to speed up COVID-19 testing, updating patient records, and disseminating information through mobile apps/web. RPA bots are deployed to schedule patient appointment bookings based on their criticality or urgency. Experts also predict that the RPA market will witness the emergence of new local players who will offer cutting-edge customized services to their clients and customers. For example, hospitals can fastrack patient registration by allowing self-registration and using RPA and AI to approve photos, ID proof, etc.
The growth potential has made RPA vendors increasingly adopt various organic and inorganic growth strategies including significant collaborations and joint ventures to penetrate the RPA market in India. For example, in 2019, BluePrism invested in India which has a significant concentration of global capability centres of multinationals.
Though the COVID-19 crisis brought the RPA potential to the limelight, the sector is indeed reaching new heights, and enterprises are advancing in their automation journey. Due to its plethora of benefits, RPA has been able to foray into various sectors and industries ranging from the service sector, government systems, BFSI, education, health, etc. just to name a few.
In conclusion, the RPA technology has been aided by the pandemic, which has laid the foundation or the platform for digitization. Now that this hard problem is resolved, it is only a matter of time before enterprises will start to see the benefits of automation.
(The author is Vice President, Emerging Technologies at Vuram and the views expressed in this article are his own)