Last week saw the RPA Summit for Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) take place in London. The event was well run and insightful so a well done to the organisers for delivering a memorable summit. The fact that 44% of BFSI organisations are investing in RPA, AI or Machine Learning solutions was demonstrated by the fact this was not an Automation-101 conference, it jumped right in at the deep-end with lessons learned from experienced practitioners.
For all the great progress being made there are still some big challenges ahead, there was clear recognition that organisations were still not focusing enough on people, culture, process, customer and driving innovative new ideas.
The main vendors
All three top tier vendors (Blue Prism, UiPath, Automation Anywhere) were in attendance, with Automation Anywhere also being a main sponsor for the event, and both UiPath and Automation Anywhere exhibiting. There were also a good selection of other vendors, each providing their own focus and areas of specialisation in a market that is set to grow exponentially.
Resistance is Futile
Many organisations were finding resistance from technologists at all levels, from failure to gain strategic support, through to developers unhappy that the low-code development environment was not technical enough!
My favourite advertising came from Hexaware, with their "Shrink IT" strap line! Not subtle, very funny.
The conclusion was simple, collaboration with IT is essential, the ownership though seems firmly planted with the business. A key component of this relationship is ensuring that IT Security is maintained.
The role of a process owner, or similar, responsible for both human and robotic workers is now more common in operations that have been working at this for a while.
Stability of Processes is Critical
As a long time lean thinker I was pleased to hear how many companies were strongly advocating the critical importance of applying business process improvement to processes rather than simply automating as-is.
"If you haven't thought through your process and optimised for RPA then it will introduce long delays." - Wells Fargo
The links between lean and RPA crucial, one organisation realised this and subsequently had to develop the skills from scratch in parallel with their RPA work!
The consensus in the room is banking, financial services and insurance are currently dominating the market, with Pharmaceuticals and Telecoms close behind.
Where do all the people go?
It was the elephant in the room. While most vendors claim that it is about redeployment, increasing opportunities for creative roles and matching attrition, there was certainly a general feeling that this would not be the case for most people. Most businesses presenting case studies have successfully implemented RPA without any job losses, but equally many of these companies also went through the pain of reorganisation several years earlier during Business Process Outsourcing.
Herein lies a hidden truth, that similar concerns of job losses have been heard before - when offshoring was a regular occurrence - some believe that while RPA will generate job losses, there will be a re-balancing over time similar to the effect of BPO. Personally, I remain to be convinced, as do most economists who have looked at this particular situation, there will be a short-term impact on labour. How much of an impact is still being fiercely debated.
and Artificial Intelligence is the Future?
There were more conflicting views on AI (a term I will use to group together many concepts, such as Machine Learning, Cognitive, Intelligent, etc.). Although many of the theories have been around for years, it's still a very new topic for business, and I would bubble-up a few key messages from the sometimes contrary information:
AI today is about where RPA was 2 years ago in maturity; the tools are developing.
AI will not replace RPA, they are complementary, though on this point there were degrees of debate that will probably be a few more years before we know!
Organisations do not yet understand what outcome they are looking for with AI.
The leading organisations in use of AI (or more specifically Machine Learning) were put under pressure to deliver something; they had a burning platform and AI was the best solution.
Within the next 18 months conferences will focus on AI, RPA will become a subset of the discussion in the same was as lean and operational efficiency have become a known standard.
While RPA is well suited to Structured Data AND Structured Process, AI can be applied to Unstructured Data or Process.
FCA is not yet accepting of AI and require a human sign off, though the discussions on improved accuracy and consistency are central to the debate.
So, AI is not the future was the title, and that's because the general consensus by most presenters at the conference was the future is already here!
Machine learning isn't a future technology, it's already capable and demonstrating positive financial and customer results, is being integrated into existing tools and there is a rapidly expanding list of other functionality under the AI umbrella that are readily available and easily accessible to utilise.
While financial services may be a little ahead, the gap between leaders and laggards is growing. While the factors causing this range from recruitment to cultural change, it is the pace of this change that is hard to believe, in the 8 months since last meeting some of the attendees, their organisations have made step changes. This has happened for RPA, which is a relatively easy concept to understand, when it comes to AI the gap will widen even further.
Several companies are already reporting between 100-1000 robots in operation, conservatively that is equivalent to 400-4000 people. These organisations are already utilising, or evaluating, AI as the next logical step.
The team at Wzard Innovation are available to help companies focus on people, culture, process, customer and innovation, the key elements needed for any successful introduction of automation or artificial intelligence solutions.