Posted: 01 Dec. 2016 15 min. read

Rise of the robots… the Boardroom table?

5 ways Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can make life easier for Boards and organisations

In 2014, a Japanese investment firm announced they had appointed a robot to their Board. Deep Impact Ventures made headlines around the world when they promoted an algorithm, called Vital, causing some pithy journalists to ask if some companies’ Board meetings would be improved by sitting next to an algorithm!

Vital is a computer program that sifts through vast amounts of data to give investment recommendations and was to be used by the Board to assist with investment decisions. So at the time, the announcement was more of a publicity stunt than anything else. But given developments in the field of robotics since that story, the concept of robotics as a serious tool for organisations to increase productivity has moved entirely from gimmick to centre stage. For this reason, it’s a topic that is rapidly becoming essential for Boards to have some familiarity with.

This year Deloitte global released the report ‘The robots are here – meet your digital workforce’ covering the subject of Robotic Process Automation. RPA is most simply explained as a way to automate repetitive and rules-based processes, such as those typically performed within a back-office function. RPA is different from Artificial Intelligence. While AI mimics human decisions, RPA is simply a program that mimics human actions.

The report is intended to help leaders gain more clarity about the potential of RPA, and to look at examples of how it’s being applied and the experiences of those organisations applying it. It finds that while only 9% of respondents have actually implemented RPA, 74% of respondents plan to investigate the technology in the next year. The technology is at early adoption stage in Australia, and we are seeing pilot schemes being rolled out, but little major implementation at scale at the moment.

When implemented successfully, RPA can help to deliver on what many Boards are seeking to implement in their organisations; efficiency, innovation, talent, improved risk and control frameworks, and better customer service. Here are some of the ways that RPA can bring advantages for the Board:

  1. Risk and control frameworks improve because logging, recording, tracking etc. are much more efficient and accurate with RPA. Robots enforce processes and have consistency in their actions 100% of the time. If incidents do occur, the necessary reporting tends to be more accurate. The frequency of checks can also be increased – some checks that were only performed monthly or weekly due to workload can be done nightly.
  2. Using RPA to automate tasks frees up space for innovation because rote tasks are completed more quickly with less human effort. This means that employees have more time to work on more complex issues.
  3. RPA can improve the attraction of talent to the organisation. With RPA, the quality of many jobs are better. Work is better designed, with a clearer sense of purpose. Jobs become more appealing because there is a role for people to add more value and they are making more subjective decisions.
  4. Most organisations consist of many legacy systems that don’t talk to each other and these gaps are usually filled by humans connecting data in the back end. RPA increases efficiency by plugging these gaps. It’s less expensive to implement than an ICT infrastructure reboot because there is no outlay on machines or hard assets.
  5. Almost counter-intuitively, robots can contribute to better customer experiences across channels. For example, robots are great at ‘keeping people informed’ as they progress through a task – or alternatively, they don’t mind scanning through multiple systems to make sure a customer’s details are correct across the company.

RPA is just one of the many developments in automation and artificial intelligence with the potential to significantly impact business outcomes. It’s a useful concept for boards to understand, even if it’s not immediately on the cards for discussion.

For more information, check out the full version of the report on our website.

More about the author

Chris Lewin

Chris Lewin

Partner, Consulting

Chris is a Partner in the Consulting: Automate Practice in Deloitte Australia. He has extensive business and technology experience across complex business transformation programs, alongside a deep background in integration projects that sit at the intersection of data and process. He has deep experience in complex technology deployments such as Big Data, Analytics and Automation solutions across Telecommunications, FSI and Public Sector clients - generating operational insights and productivity outcomes.