Exploring Projects Where RPA Really Did Change A Business

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Why do companies really implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? The technology journals endlessly talk about robotics, framed by ‘Terminator’ images, but what are the benefits reported by those companies that have already explored RPA? According to the robotics consulting firm Symphony, these are the main benefits found after RPA has been deployed:

  • 86 per cent say RPA significantly reduces costs
  • 86 per cent feel RPA reduces risk and improves compliance
  • 86 per cent believe RPA improves process effectiveness and efficiency
  • 89 per cent believe RPA improves the quality of work
  • 91 per cent say RPA saves companies time on repetitive tasks

As you might expect from a system that is focused on automation, the focus is on saving time, improving quality, and reducing risk. RPA is often talked about as a technology that can replace people, but it is smarter to think in terms of how it can help people to do their job better – to always remain inside compliance regulations or to consistently deliver processes without errors.


This feature in IT Pro explores several RPA deployments and asks why the projects were successful and whether the companies involved achieved what they expected. Examples include:

  • A car manufacturer offering a bot that could answer questions about their vehicle, such as what a light on the dashboard means. Additionally the messenger bot maintains a relationship with the customer and sends reminders such as when it is time for maintenance or tasks such as an oil change.
  • A recruitment company used a bot to analyse CVs automatically and submit only those meeting all the required criteria. This allowed the recruitment consultant to scan far more CVs than would be possible manually.
  • A bot that could add information on music concerts to a website focused on music events. Instead of manually Googling for information on events and then copying information to the database, the bot could just search and populate the database automatically.

What’s interesting here is that these are all very different projects, but they previously required a large amount of repetitive manual work – especially the recruitment and music examples. In these examples, people would be performing repetitive manual searches many times. The bot allows them to focus more on the search results, rather than wasting time performing the searches. The car example shows that with a little thought, an existing process such as sending reminders to a customer can be performed in a more interactive way that actually should help to build a closer brand to customer relationship.


HfS Research believes that the RPA market will be big – around $1.2bn by 2021 – but they also exercise some restraint. HfS believes that many of the predictions linked to RPA are ‘ridiculous’ and typical of the hype we see whenever a new technology becomes trendy. This is always a danger when new technologies become popular. They are often seen as a solution looking for a problem. Executives start asking why we don’t have an RPA strategy without identifying where RPA can actually help to improve their business processes. However, as the IT Pro case studies demonstrate, it is possible to take specific processes and to automate them so quality and efficiency is improved.

RPA is not about a robotic takeover and a complete end to all manual work, but it is an opportunity to dramatically increase efficiency in any part of your business that suffers from a need to perform repetitive manual tasks. It will be an important business strategy, but let’s stop framing discussions about robotics with ‘Terminator’ images.

Click here for information on how IBA Group can help design an RPA solution that works for your business.

How The Robots In Your Home Are Creating New Opportunities

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I recently bought a Furbo. It’s a device that started life on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. You fill the Furbo with small dog treats and when away from home it’s possible to watch your dog using the camera and toss those treats remotely. It’s also possible to speak and listen to what your dog is ‘saying’.

It’s just a fun device, but it is also one more connection to the Internet. Our homes are becoming filled with connected devices and slowly our home environment is becoming far more technology-enabled than any office, where the focus is still on connecting little more than computers and printers.

Think about your own home environment. Do you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home system? That means you will have connected microphones dotted around the house. What about your phone, laptop, and Kindle? If you have a games console that that will also be connected and how else can your TV access Netflix if that’s not online?

Much of the traditional media we used to consume in the home such as records, movies, and books is now consumed electronically. We stream Netflix to a Smart TV. We stream Spotify music to a home theatre or speaker system. We download books and magazines to e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The connected home has slowly become a reality and is no longer unusual or cutting edge.
Data published last year by Cisco estimates that by 2021 each person in North America will be using 13 connected devices. Thirteen for each person! That’s a lot of Kindles and Furbos.

Naturally much of this growth is because everyday objects are gradually becoming connected. It would be unusual to buy a new car today and to find that it does not ask to connect to your wifi. Tesla cars regularly upgrade themselves when parked overnight. A new channel between products and their manufacturer has been created allowing automated updates and maintenance to take place without user involvement.

Smart leaders need to look beyond the devices and think about the data. When people are streaming constant information on their location and behaviour how can your business tap into that information to create genuine value? Insurance companies are one great example of a sector that is benefitting from this move to an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. If a car driver only pays insurance for their car when it is used and they are rewarded for safe driving behaviour then that helps the customer and the insurance company. Insurance is being redefined by this real-time data on the customer.

How is your business reacting to this connected environment? Can you see the opportunities or does it just seem like a threat to the established way of doing business?

RPA Is The First Step To Data Automation, Not The Final Answer

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last year the analyst firm HfS Research published a cautionary article on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). They warned that the technology and outsourcing market was hyping RPA beyond what it could possibly achieve – the talk of RPA changing the world is all hype.

This should be qualified by the more nuanced comments published by HfS. They stated that the RPA boom has been hyped, but not the more general focus on business automation. So the blogs and business journals that keep on breathlessly saying that bots will transform companies need to examine just exactly what they are saying. RPA cannot exist without a wider transformation of how a company functions.

Companies today need real-time data that converges across business functions. You cannot have a marketing database that is not connected to data your customer service team is using. You cannot drive business value today without your business data being real-time and accessible from across the entire business.

The hype around bots is that all this is automatic; but if your company still relies on paper documents then how are the bots going to process that data? To create a truly automated organisation requires more thought and planning than just the deployment of a bot in the back-office.

As more processes are digitised, more value can be created. More insights can be found. More opportunities to set bots searching for trends are created. HfS has actually been saying this for a long time and they have a digital office solution called OneOffice that broadly defines how organisations need to plan operations – if they want to use the data flowing through the company.

The real message is that RPA itself is not hype. There are many excellent examples of RPA deployments that have achieved genuine efficiencies for the companies using it – including customers of IBA. However, the idea that RPA is a silver bullet that can automate your business processes, making your team super-efficient overnight, is certainly hype. RPA is just one part of a transformation to a digital business environment. It is one tool in a complete arsenal of change related to the way that data is used.

We need to see a convergence of data analytics, cognitive solutions, and RPA. Big Data is another term that is often tossed around with very little understanding, but it needs to be understood by leaders. Big Data and data convergence are not just referring to smarter ways of using data. We are talking about the complete digital transformation of organisations so that data becomes the most valuable asset.

Many people have been shocked to recently discover just how much data Facebook has on their personal likes, dislikes, and preferences. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Facebook has offered a free service for years in return for data. That data allows them to know their customers inside-out, creating advertising opportunities that the traditional advertising industry cannot match. Facebook has redefined how advertising works and major advertising companies are struggling to keep up.

Whatever your business, you need to think about how data flows from customers to you and how it moves inside the organisation. How can you leverage this knowledge to create new opportunities – even a new business? RPA is just one ingredient and can help to automate some processes, but thinking about RPA should really just be your first step towards a complete transformation of how you are using data in your company today.

Can RPA Really Deliver Change Or Is It Just Hype?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Horses For Sources blog has been a great place to read comment on outsourcing for many years now. It became so popular and authoritative that the founder, Phil Fersht, managed to launch the innovative analyst company HfS Research. The contrarian approach of the blog has allowed the entire company to continue focusing on innovative research that sometimes exposes false trends and hype.

And so it was recently when an article on the blog commented on growth expectations in the Indian ITO and BPO sector. The Indian technology association NASSCOM is predicting strong growth in the sector of 7-9% and yet all the industry analysts, including HfS, are saying that they believe it will be more like 4-5%. Who is right?

As the blog points out, some of the more level-headed executives have accepted that the days of rapid growth in this type of outsourcing are over. For example, the contact centres that were once endlessly growing now need to accept that customers would actually prefer self-service systems. The way that brands and customers interact is changing fast and this will impact on the service companies that are serving them.

But the blog also notes that many company executives will not accept that their growth is slowing and they will reach out for the latest fad to help give the impression that innovation is about to save them. Some of the ideas mentioned are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This is typical executive behaviour. When a proven business model starts slowing down, reach out to “innovation” for a boost.

But some of the fads do have a genuine application. RPA for example. It really works and there are many examples of how it can be used to automate processes and deflect the need for a customer to interact with the brand through a customer service interaction.

The problem is that the executives who talk about these innovations as game-changing are not really accepting that the game has changed. They continue to talk about growth using old metrics, such as how many people work in their contact centre, and fail to see that in many cases, services are being delivered in a completely different way. New business models may be required and new charging structures are certainly required.

Strategies such as RPA are not just new services that can drum up additional revenue, they can entirely redefine how a business model works. As the HfS blog suggests, it’s time for executives to stop talking about AI, blockchain, and RPA as new sources of income and to start defining how these technologies might change, improve, or destroy their entire industry.

AI Can Transform How Companies Interact With Customers

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Chatbots have faced quite a challenge. Initially they were embraced, especially when Facebook championed how they could allow small companies to be available to customers 24/7 without the need for a contact centre. However, many customers and companies have also complained that they often fail to live up to the promise. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are just not good enough to replicate interactions with a real person.

But a recent feature in Financial Review magazine explores how chatbots are really just the beginning of a long journey into AI. Perhaps we should review our expectations and remember that we are only just starting to use these technologies for real business solutions. Mistakes will be made, but when the technology is effectively deployed it really does work.

Take a look at the National Australia Bank deployment of a chatbot to answer customer questions. The bank focused on the most common 200 questions that customers ask and the bot can recognise all these and another 13,000 variations of the same questions. Commonwealth Bank launched a chatbot in January of this year and by the end of the year they predict that it will understand 500,000 different ways to ask about 500 different banking processes.

The bots are learning. They are applying Machine Learning principles so that every interaction with a customer becomes an opportunity to learn and improve. This is very important, because many of the executives who have been critical of AI systems have not allowed the system long enough to learn how it needs to behave.

Organisations that need to interact with their customers often, like banks, will find that an enormous amount of basic enquiries can be handled by bots and customers will prefer interacting with bots because they get immediate – and accurate – service. AI has proven beyond doubt that it is more than just a fad. The smart use of a chatbot system is the first step on a path to creating a much more automated customer experience – an experience that most customers will prefer because of the immediacy of service.

Click here to learn about IBA Group’s EmailBot Solution.

Why Won’t Robots Replace Human Workers?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The business journals used to say that outsourcing and offshoring was replacing the need for companies to hire people. Now it’s the robots that are supposed to be taking our jobs. Business journals and commentators across the world are suggesting that a wave of automation driven by smart Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will largely replace the need for workers.

But what is the reality? Forrester Research does believe that a big change is coming, especially to highly developed markets like the US. Their latest study on the global workforce suggested that in 2018, 9% of US jobs will be lost to automation, partly offset by a 2% growth in jobs supporting this automation – the systems need to be managed. The most impacted areas will be back-office and administrative, sales, and call centre employees. A wide range of technologies, from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI to customer self-service and physical robots will change how people are hired and will create a need for different skills.

Analysis by McKinsey is cautious. They warn that just because it is technically feasible for tasks to be automated does not mean that every company will do so. This is similar to the earlier concerns about outsourcing. It is technically feasible to outsource almost every function of a company, yet few companies outsource everything.

McKinsey says that when planning what is possible to automate, first you need to rate jobs and tasks by their technical feasibility – is this a repetitive process that a robot or software bot could perform? For example, when thinking about manual work tasks such as a factory assembly line or food packaging are predictable and it is possible to consider how these tasks could be automated. Construction, forestry, or working with animals is highly unstructured and not predictable and therefore almost impossible to automate.

Let’s consider a simple example. IBA Group created an email bot that sorts incoming emails at the customer support centres. The EmailBot processes typical customer requests, grouping these by content, sending automatic responses, creating tickets, and gathering statistics. However, even a constantly-learning robot cannot process all customer requests. Roughly 50-70 percent of incoming emails are processed automatically and the rest are forwarded to the appropriate employees. Nevertheless, in this case the employees are relieved from repetitive operations and are able to focus on more complicated tasks so value is created.

But factories and manufacturing are just one part of the economy. In most developed economies services are a greater part of the economy. Here there are clear examples of how some automation can be introduced. Look at how customers in McDonald’s are now comfortable using a screen to order their own meal. Amazon has proven that an entire supermarket can be automated, so not even checkouts are required.

Computer Weekly recently published an interesting study of automation that draws the conclusion that the real story is not that robots will cause jobs to vanish. Some jobs will go, but millions will also be created because of the automation. The real story is that many of the jobs we are familiar with today will be transformed.

This rings true. Think about the skills needed by a finance assistant or Human Resources professional in an environment where many business processes will be automated. These office professionals need to be able to control the automation systems and improve them – the back office professionals you are now hiring probably need to be able to code software. That never used to be a requirement in HR, but it will be soon.

The McKinsey research analyses over 800 different types of job and explores the possibility of robots replacing these tasks. You can read the research here, but to my mind it is the transformation of skills that is the real story – not robots replacing workers. Workers need to understand how to work with the robots and control them so they can be more productive.

Are The Robots Taking Over?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Science fiction authors have long predicted a world in which intelligent robots take over the world. Classic authors such as Isaac Asimov even created ways in which humans should interact with robots, predicting that there will eventually be a problem defining the difference between a human and robot. After all, if a robot can learn, is self-aware, and grows in intelligence and human empathy as it ages then how can you define it as “not alive”?

This has created our fear of robots. They are fine if they are just performing repetitive tasks on a car assembly line, but if they can learn and improve then one day they might be better than humans.

But we are not close to that time yet. Anyone who has used the Apple Siri device knows that it can be extremely useful if you ask a question like: “where is the nearest Italian restaurant?” but ask it to define the meaning of life and it will be lost.

However, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming a real thing in the Business Process Outsourcing area of services. RPA allows the concept of robots to be applied to services – so it may often just be a piece of software rather than a physical robot, but if it performs a specific service then it gets the robot name.

A good example in contact centres. A vast number of calls to contact centres are repetitive and don’t require a human. For example if you are calling your bank to change address or you just need a balance on your account or you are asking your telephone company to recharge your account with some extra data. Basic interactions like these can be diverted to software systems that understand the voice of the customer and react as a normal agent would, except it’s the robot system performing actions, not a real live agent.

What is interesting though is that some companies with a large volume of interactions – like telcos – are finding that they can allow the system to learn. The robot can be given basic instructions, but can learn from every customer interaction, so the robot learns how to fix problems it was not originally programmed to fix and it can identify trends and patterns in the customer enquiries.

The fear for many humans working in areas such as contact centres is that these robots will entirely replace them, but as this Chicago Inno article shows, the robots are actually supporting the human jobs. Humans are performing more valued-added tasks that require insight and an ability to analyse the data being created. The robots can remove much of the repetitive work and can do it faster.

RPA is going to be the next step for Big Data. How can companies learn from all the information they have and then create processes that can intelligently interact with their customers?

It’s still at the early stages. Some companies are using RPA to improve their customer experience, but the likelihood of RPA learning how to run the company and replacing the humans is remote at present.

However, they are getting better. Just imagine where we might be in a decade from now? Eventually we might need to start reading Asimov once again so we can figure out how to integrate the robots into society!

How Robots Will Change the Way We Work

IBA Group
Darya Kavaleuskaya

The writing is on the wall: robots are coming. The latest report issued by the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers shows that if you earn between 20$ and 40$ an hour, there is a 31% chance you will be replaced by a robot in the near future. If you earn less than 20$ an hour, the probability is as high as 83%.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is unstoppable. But is it time to start packing and looking for a new job? The abovementioned report states that throughout the years in the past, many workers had been replaced by technological innovations, but this had led them to find jobs with higher salaries, consume more, create a number of new workplaces. This pattern might be applicable to the situation in the future.

Automation is not a completely new trend. The first robots made their way to the United States in 1961, and since then they have been increasing productivity and making people’s work easier. Right now, a lot of IT processes are performed by algorithms.

Robots can be both complements and substitutes, and cooperation between robots and humans allows for discoveries that neither can achieve on their own. RPA in biology and medicine is believed to have tremendous potential. RPA in IT provides an opportunity to pass all routine work to robots and let humans do the work that requires creativity and imagination. Thus, the situation is not as black-and-white as it may seem.

Those employees who find themselves in the ‘risk group’ require additional training to be able to quickly and smoothly move to new jobs. New generations of workers are already aware of the importance of RPA and other emerging technologies, and they are more likely to be adapted for the upcoming tech revolution.

It is still unclear whether the pace at which the innovation happens will leave a lot of people unemployed in the next year or two, or it will happen gradually to give people time to regroup and retrain. But being aware of the trend might be the best solution at the moment.

How Robots Will Change the Way We Work