To be or not to be? will automation replace humans? Let’s explore ?
What is RPA ?
RPA is the industry’s term for software robots that run on the desktop and assist human workers with simple, repetitive workflow automation.
Why automate tasks?
Automation offers freedom! Automating routine processes allows the human counterpart to work on more innovative and value added tasks.
Which processes to automate?
Processes across departments
Working in silos does create rework on same processes. Better inter-silo collaboration can help identify process improvement opportunities for RPA projects to fully optimize the organizations value chain.
Process across systems
Often integrating new tools with old legacy systems creates extra processes for interoperability. It takes more cognitive effort to take a step back and question the process for reengineering it instead of putting a band aid as a quick fix solution. Definitely opportunities for process improvement and automation can be found in this area.
Algorithmic processes follow a predefined set of instructions to arrive at an expected result vs heuristic tasks that require more cognitive processing as there is no algorithm for it. Heuristic tasks typically require problem solving skills while algorithmic tasks are procedural and easily programmable.
How do you identify these opportunities?
Typically Design Thinking workshops allow clients to better understand back-office pain points, through value stream mapping or business process mapping workshops. A good starting point is to go for the low hanging fruits and low-risk operational changes.
Limits of RPA:
RPA is not a silver bullet to eliminate inefficiency in any process; it will just enable the automation of ineffective or inefficient process to gain time and accelerate inefficiencies in the system which will cause greater problems…Just because we can automate a process using RPA does not mean we should. “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Poorly planned and unattended RPA can create other silo — an island of disconnected apps in the IT stack.
RPA helps only gain operational agility. It’s a tactical, simple way to acquire process efficiency but will not directly help an organization become strategically agile. By itself RPA is not an innovation, however it can free up employee time to work on innovation projects or other value added tasks.
It might be well worth redefine what innovation is and why your company needs to innovate.
Purpose of automation
The purpose of a company is to create value, not just shareholder value, but social as well as environmental value. People want to feel that they are part of something greater, and being responsible for a job implies at least a little responsibility in making an impact in the world. Employees look for a sense of belonging and purpose.
If creating work for people is the main goal, why not just hire more people to complete the same task as before, but replace their computers with calculators and paper? It makes no sense to create jobs at the expense of productivity. Using a calculator or increasing paperwork is a bad idea because of how degrading that job would become. Think of the cashiers at supermarkets scanning products for 8 hours a day, how motivating is that? In that case, why not question the basis of capitalism and the notions of universal basic income and pay the superfluous workers to stay home?
Choosing the right processes for improvement:
Make an impact: Select impactful tasks to automate, small change that can have a big impact on both cost and revenues
Eliminate and simplify what’s complex: Simplify by segmenting complicated processes. Process mapping, analysis, and redesigning processes are essential to an effective RPA implementation. The existing business process is often overly complex, with unnecessary steps that could be eliminated before RPA is implemented.
Eliminate what is non-essential: Eliminate non-value adding tasks in the process, instead of automating redundancy.
Group and combine tasks: Once processes are mapped across the business value chain and across departments, group and combine tasks to bring in efficiency.
Build for flexibility: Develop a multi-case robot using configuration files which can be replicated or reused across different business departments, between locations and operations.
Build for scalability: Size up or down to meet demands
To be or …to automate?
In 1942, the economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase creative destruction to refer to a process through which an existing production system is replaced by one that is more innovative, thereby boosting labor productivity. Such a process creates “economic losers” who stand to lose from the change. Who’s responsible for this loss?
Is it the tech sector to be blamed for arming data scientists to build systems which exclude low-skilled laborers from jobs? Is it the education system which is unable to prepare individuals for new jobs? Or is it the government that is too lenient toward regulating advances in AI and continuing with a defunct capitalistic system? This is a wicked problem, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Even if a society with automation leads to an economic growth is it just to disregard, the needs of the most vulnerable stakeholders ?
The guiding answer in this situation is would be to is invest in retraining workers and make decisions in the interest of the common (public) good. #FrugalInnovation
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Some articles of reference: