Hype busters: Five things to know about robotics and cognitive automation

Everyone's talking robotic process automation and cognitive automation (R&CA) these days. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of hype around those discussions—and many misconceptions. Let me take this opportunity to dispel some of the rumors.

March 31, 2017

A blog post by Ryan Renner, Strategy & Operations (S&O) leader, Deloitte Analytics.

Let’s start by defining the term that's commonly being used in the market: R&CA refers to two emerging business process automation technologies. Robotics mimic human actions by automating predictable, repetitive tasks that don’t involve judgment. Cognitive technologies replicate and augment human intelligence.

In our view, we believe that automation is critical, but it's only part of a broader trend driven by cognitive technologies. The real value lies in leveraging these techniques in a continuous journey to realize a cognitive advantage.

Here are some of the ways we’re helping companies to go down the right path, and I'm looking forward to sharing their stories in future blogs:

  • Automation: Mimicking automation and simple intelligence
  • Insight: Deriving an understanding of data and leveraging machine-aided techniques and technologies
  • Engagement: Delivering personalized insights to amplify the end-user experience

Armed with that basic definition, here are five things that are important to know about R&CA:

  • R&CA is different than traditional automation solutions. R&CA solutions operate in the user interface layer of IT systems, so they typically require fewer IT resources and have minimal impact on underlying systems. The key is understanding how to integrate these new technologies to complement your existing systems and avoid internal conflict. Deployable in a matter of weeks or months, R&CA solutions can shorten the time to benefit realization, are often self-funding, and are both technology agnostic and easy to reuse, which allows for continuous improvement.
  • R&CA will likely have significant impacts on the workforce, but not what you might think. Yes, low-skilled back-office roles are likely to be replaced by bots. But real financial opportunity may come from automating high-skill roles instead of targeting labor arbitrage. The resulting savings can be reinvested in innovation and growth initiatives, which are likely to require the hiring of new workers with different skills. R&CA also has the potential to deliver a hidden benefit of talent retention and attraction: Automating the more mundane tasks, like jockeying data for reports, can free up knowledge workers to devote more time and energy to discovering insights, developing strategies, and pursuing opportunities. Organizations should address these workforce impacts through strong change management, communications, training, and commitment to implementation.
  • Although R&CA is a business-led initiative, a collaboration between the business and IT is critical. R&CA tools can provide a simple format for driving change without technical expertise. However, IT commitment is needed to deploy and maintain automation. The business and IT should partner to find the balance between broader IT systems re-design and R&CA implementation. IT can provide value in several areas, including R&CA strategy development, process identification and prioritization, technical development augmentation, deployment and maintenance of automations, infrastructure support, and coordination for system upgrades.
  • R&CA requires agility and commitment to continuous improvement. The journey to a well-established R&CA capability typically begins with individual processes and then continues through a series of agile, iterative adoption cycles. Manual digital tasks involving rules-based data entry, extraction, or manipulation are ideal as the first proof-of-concept projects and early waves of R&CA implementations. Then, the focus of future projects can shift toward judgment-oriented tasks enabled by cognitive capabilities. Long-term benefits typically arrive as organizations expand R&CA into an organizational strategy that might include a center of excellence, clear policies, formal definition of new job roles and responsibilities, and identification of new organizational touch points.
  • R&CA isn't a silver bullet. R&CA can help organizations reveal hidden efficiencies within existing processes, but it doesn't replace process redesign or the need to rethink not just "who" does the work, but "how" work gets done. R&CA is not just a one-time solution; the cognitive advantage presents a continuum of opportunity that includes automation, insights, and engagement to drive enterprise value and support long-term strategic goals of the business.

When you boil it down, R&CA is all about driving business value, not about bots taking over the workplace. Any other assertions are simply hype. Is your company considering deployment of R&CA capabilities? I'd enjoy hearing from you.

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