Looking At Robotic Process Automation With The Individual In Mind

Robotic Process Automation
Marcus Loveland

By now, many of us in the area of Straight Through Processing (STP) are probably familiar with the concept of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the jargon associated with it, like Automation, Full Time Equivalent (FTE), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cost Savings to list a few.

Often, information published about RPA focuses on companies – how they can cut costs by implementing RPA, how it will improve organisational efficiencies and reduce errors, as well as various other benefits. What seems to be ignored is the effect of RPA on individuals as opposed to corporates.

It is a given that many employees will express fear of implementing an RPA project. Will it mean job losses? Will the organisation as they know it changes? Is this a realistic and logical fear? And can in fact being involved in an RPA project benefit the individual directly, in ways that may not seem obvious at the outset? Exploration of the human element may reveal that RPA not only holds great opportunities for the company itself but also for the individuals involved in the projects.

To begin with, it would be good to understand what makes someone feel a particular way. There are many psychological biases that come into play when an individual makes up their mind about a particular subject. A psychological bias takes root when the context and framing of information influence one’s judgment and decision-making and leads to illogical thinking. Although several psychological biases apply, I believe that the two most applicable ones in the RPA discussion are confirmation bias and framing bias.

Psychological biases

Confirmation bias occurs when people look for information that supports their existing beliefs and reject data that go against these beliefs. For instance, a person may have read a negative article about RPA and, despite any evidence that he or she comes across thereafter that contradicts it, illogically retains the bias that took hold while reading the first negative article.

Framing bias refers to the way that information is presented. I like the example of a stockbroker trying to sell a financial stock by presenting a six-month graph depicting the rapid upward trajectory of the price. This is one frame. Another frame would be to look at the same stock price over a one-year period. Now you may see another picture altogether: a story of a wildly volatile stock that could lose you all your money, quickly. In this instance, neither frame provides you with the full story.

It is often easier to sell cost reduction than the potential of new clients and increased future revenue because cost reduction seems more achievable in the short term. Many marketers produce content that promises cost reduction and direct it at people within the organisation who controls the budget, not at the workforce as a whole. There needs to be a more holistic framing of RPA, to highlight how it can benefit both the organisation and the individuals making up the organisation. After all, a company is only as good as its people.

History tells something

Automating processes that previously needed individuals or teams of people to manage these processes every step of the way, is bound to cause concern for the people in question. However, this is far from the first time we have experienced such an opportunity. With the advent of personal computers, there was a lot of fear about computers taking over people’s jobs. However, a whole new industry was created and an entire revolution began. Jobs that never existed were created. Who would now say that it would have been better to say no to computers in order to protect the jobs that used to do the computerised tasks manually? That is not to sound callous and insensitive to people’s jobs. The fact is that embracing new thinking, processes and technology leads to the creation of far more roles that require people – it is just that, before the evolution is embraced, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what those roles will be. The simplistic framing of RPA as something that will lead to human redundancy is just a combination of psychological biases pushing back against an evolution that will create more work and more opportunities than there would be without RPA.

The evolution of computers is just one example. History is littered with times in which the concerns surrounding the roles of individuals have led to psychological biases and reticence to embrace change. Video was supposed to kill the radio star. Tell that to the massive podcast industry, which then diversified and led to the hybrid of radio and TV that Joe Rogan tapped into and capitalised on through his $100 million Spotify deal. Both talk radio and music radio are alive, well and rolling with the times. Wasn’t reading supposed to become a thing of the past? Tell that to James Patterson, JK Rowling, Lee Child, Stephen King, Deon Mayer and thousands of other authors. Have the sales of hard copy books gone down since e-books came along? I’m sure they have and yet there seems to be a swing back to hard copy books in recent years. Will you be successful as a fax machine salesperson in today’s marketplace? It is unlikely. Nobody is saying that RPA will not lead to redundancy in certain areas, though the opportunities it can create far outweigh any redundancy that could happen because of it.

Benefits to individuals

Implementing the journey of RPA in your area involves far more than just automating a process. Spain’s famous pilgrimage trail, the El Camino de Santiago, is not just a walk from Point A to Point B. It’s a journey through hamlets and villages, along the coastline and across mountains and valleys, meeting people along the way and getting new perspectives on life. Most people who walk it talk of coming out of it a different person. It may seem like an exaggeration to compare a great pilgrimage to partaking in an automation project. However, by embarking on an RPA project, if done correctly, you will get so much more out of the project than you would have initially thought. You will meet people with different, fresh perspectives on the process and compare notes with other experts in your field. Where you initially thought that there was no scope for change you may realise that significant change is possible. You may also start to see that previously unachievable goals are now achievable. As an example, with the help of RPA (as well as the data warehouse team), the fund services scrip reconciliation team within Maitland Fund Services have implemented a reporting process that adds great value to the client at no additional cost. This process sends an estimated 150 reports to multiple asset managers each day. This would previously not have been possible.

One of the greatest benefits achieved through process automation is not the fact that the process is automated, but rather that the process is critically analysed, various solutions discussed, and the best possible solution chosen and implemented. If you have done a holistic review of all processes, you will have a full picture of those processes. Throughout the research and development, new cross-organisation relationships are forged, internal team relationships are enhanced, team buy-in for processes is achieved, new perspectives are gained and, finally, the stronger, automated process is realised. All of this also results in a happier, stronger, more agile and more profitable organisation.

It is with this bigger picture framing in mind that teams can start or continue this journey. RPA is not just an opportunity for tech companies us – it is available to all organisations. If we don’t embrace change and continually improve, others will.

Survival of the fittest

As technology moves forward and cloud-based solutions gain further traction, it becomes easier for clients to switch providers. What would have been a massive client migration exercise could soon become an update of a field in a database. This reality is not very far off in the future. The corollary is also true: by evolving, improving, maturing, and providing best in class service, clients will be more likely to win over and migrate to a company’s platform.

RPA is a subject that requires understanding from all stakeholders, especially the individuals who make up an organisation. With understanding, realisation will follow: that RPA is an evolution to be embraced, not feared.

  • Marcus Loveland, RPA Analyst Developer, Maitland Fund Services

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