Despite what movies franchises like Terminator would have us believe, the biggest contemporary fear about automation isn’t superintelligence taking over the world; it’s automation taking our jobs. This concern has been around for years, but it has ramped up in recent years as automation has gotten smarter and, in some cases, able to increasingly well perform tasks that would previously have been possible only with a human. But, despite the fears, RPA isn’t about replacing humans entirely.
Instead, it’s about replacing aspects of the work that humans previously had to do. As such, it frees up human workers to carry out more interesting, varied, productive work in the time they would previously have been carrying out dull, repetitive workplace tasks.
But what is RPA, anyway? Short for Robotic Process Automation, it refers to the use of software bots to carry out repetitive, rule-based tasks. No matter how interesting an industry is, every job has certain mundane tasks — such as copying data from one another to another — that are time-consuming, but ultimately could be carried out using a piece of software programmed to repeat a certain number of steps.
How can RPA augment humans in a number of different industries? Here are five cross-industry illustrations.
Financial services are one area where RPA can be a game-changer. Robotic Process Automation tools can be used for a wide range of tasks in this industry. For example, they can be used to generate compliance reports regarding suspicious, possibly fraudulent transactions.
While this job is immensely important, the task of completing these compliance forms can be incredibly time-consuming and mundane. However, by using RPA tools that are able to extract certain relevant information and use it to complete suspicious activity reports (SARs) it’s possible to save humans having to complete these tasks. RPA can also be used for customer onboarding (especially the stages involving manual verification of documents), account opening and closure, Know your customer (KYC) and Anti-Money laundering (AML) processes, loan processing, answering certain customer service queries, and more.
Does this mean the end for humans in banking? Absolutely not. Instead, it opens up more opportunities for those same employees to focus on areas like relationship banking, in which humans’ ability to approach and convince customers of the value of services like investments and insurance relies on interpersonal skills.
By virtue of its name, human resources might not seem like it has too much use for RPA. But there are plenty of areas that RPA can help, thereby freeing up HR professionals to focus on other tasks. For example, sourcing and shortlisting candidates can be carried out using RPA. So too can certain onboarding applications, payroll and expenses, and attendance tracking.
As a job that involves standing in front of a room full of students (and, okay, standing in front of a webcam over the past 18 months), teaching seems one area that RPA wouldn’t have any possible application. However, that’s not true. Again, RPA can be used to automate certain repetitive tasks, freeing up teachers to focus on the more human-centric aspects of their jobs. For example, RPA can aid with the student enrolment process, scheduling meetings and sending out the necessary notifications, tracking course progress and generating the necessary reports, tracking attendance, and even, in some cases, helping to grade standardized tests.
No, your physician won’t be replaced by a software bot any time soon. But make no mistake about it: RPA can assist in healthcare in a number of ways that can help lower the cognitive load on those highly trained individuals who really should be focusing their expertise on more crucial, life-saving matters.
RPA in healthcare can be useful for checking eligibility information, updating and managing patient notes and other electronic medical records, performing claims processing, scheduling patients and sending reminders, and more. In highly pressured, regulatory heavy areas like medicine and healthcare, RPA can be a great means of augmenting the human workforce — for the benefit of not just those who work in the field, but also their patients.
Despite the use of the word “Robot” in Robotic Process Automation, RPA deals with software-based “robots,” not physical robots. So how can RPA be useful in a physical industry like manufacturing? Simple. It can be utilized for many of the back office operations that currently require humans. For instance, RPA can automate processes like procurement and inventory control, carry out monitoring of customer demand, production capacity, supply chain management, and similar tasks. As a result, manufacturing companies get to carry out more efficient operations, while reducing their costs. In an industry that’s all about profit margins, that can make a big difference.
It’s all about augmenting humans
Ultimately, RPA is all about augmenting — not replacing — humans. By carrying out these tasks, RPA can free up more time, allow workers to become more efficient, and reduce burnout. If these tools are able to make jobs more enjoyable for humans, provide better results, and make businesses more profitable, that’s a win-win on every level.