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The Demands of AI over RPA

Last week was the RPA and AI Meetup in London. Hosted by Bloom Search this was the fourth of their quarterly events. The format has changed around to keep things interesting and this time it was a panel discussion hosted by Leigh Varnham.

Leigh Varnham - Director & Head of the RPA Unit for the Public Sector, at Capgemini.

Leigh's role is to accelerate the adoption of RPA by central government and agencies; with the goal to the level already attained at HMRC.

Chris Gayner - Director of Labs at Symphony Ventures.

Chris is a member of the all party parliamentary group for AI and works to enhance RPA Programmes through the use of machine learning.

Steve Algieri - Independent Consultant.

Working with clients on the full lifecycle of RPA from POC through to Operations. Predominantly AI based but increasingly including RPA.

Jason Engelbrecht - Head of Technology and Chief Technology Officer at Thomson Reuters

Working within the business to utilise a range of technologies including RPA and AI to aid decisions relating to risk and financial content.

Our take-away from the first round of questions was "RPA is not for Christmas," find out how they came to that startling revelation:

What is AI?...

Chris... Extending, augmenting or enabling decision making through the use of data and technology. In the labs we do not use the term AI because it really just describes a collection of tools and technologies; statistical tools, processing tools, analytical tools that enable decisions to happen.

Steve... We've been promising AI since the 50's! The focus is on individual technologies that make up AI such as Machine Learning and Statistical Analysis. Focus on the solutions and don't talk about AI.

Jason... Computers making subjective decisions; stochastic decisions based on probability rather than rules based.

Is AI ready for the mass market in its present form?...

Steve... Yes - Decisions happening within in a finite space are happening every day and delivering good results (for example identifying anomalies on a credit card statement.). These are niche, focused deliveries. A bot that you can interact with and can talk about anything will take much longer. Many people have seen the Google Duplex call. It is a very narrow application of AI, if you asked it to phone a stockbroker the conversation would fail.

Jason... Yes. If you use facebook and upload a picture, it tags your face using AI. We interact with AI every day and don't realise it. Think about evolution, how did life evolve on the planet, AI will evolve in the same way, at the moment it is at the level of a fly.

RPA, AI or both together?...

Jason... Together. One uses training data. RPA solves repeated tasks.

Chris... RPA solves process problems, AI solves data problems. Is it a rules based problem or a judgement based problem. If you understand the tools available then you can see how they can be used to solve a different type of problem. New tools like process mining and decision tools are still emerging.

Steve... Use the tool that's right for the job, typically both.

Leigh... Vendors are becoming a central hub for the technologies of cognitive, OCR, ICR, and machine learning. Using RPA as integration and automation rather than pure automation.

What are some of the major trends in the market?...

Steve.. Changes in tooling. Originally it was heavy and immature, very development focused. Now its moving to democratise the automation in the organisation. Like excel, it gives employees a way to automate their daily life.

Jason... Multi-language support. Big trend.

Chris... From a technology perspective we see a 3 year cycle and we are now reaching the point where lots of organisations are renewing their contracts. Looking back, it was really hard to implement RPA and now we have to maintain them too. Organisations don't want to do that themselves, they don't want to buy technology, they just want to buy capability. The ability to run the process or build the process. They don't want to buy just one technology or have to handle their own internal procurement process for each solution. They want it all wrapped up into a box. Automation as a Service is becoming a trend. Businesses are asking "Run it for us."

Leigh... Retaining the skills is difficult too. The challenge of holding on to good RPA, AI, data scientist skills is a big part of the reason to outsource it.

Jason... We need managers to realise if a process can generalise or not, and what does that mean. There is a big gap in understanding. A confusion matrix... if you don't understand that you will never know how good your algorithm is. Senior management need to be trained or it won't be successful.

Do you want all your employees creating automation?...

Steve... They will do it anyway so if we can help in a structured way through a centre of excellence or standard process then that will be a good thing. Finding things to do with RPA is more important.

Leigh... 90% of automation at HMRC has come from employees. The best ideas come from those who do the job.

What advice would you give to someone new to RPA?...

Chris... Talk to us! Don't start with something too complex, prone to scope creep, is too expensive, has too many stakeholders, or the opposite, is too simple. Find the right balance: a good process that creates interest and value and can then be scaled up.

Steve... You can do it yourself. You can start yourself. You know the process. Identifying the process using your own holistic view, identify opportunity for operational efficiency. Start with something sexy and not boring to keep interest. Prove the technology, you're not necessarily going to implement what you do at first, just use it to prove the point.

Jason... Most vendors sell snake oil. Get the right people on board to ask the intelligent questions. Get advice. What are the algorithms, what's the quality, what's the roadmap for improvement.

Leigh... Anyone can do it, but then counter to the promise of it being easy have seen organisations 6 months later still fumbling in the weeds. Start quick and handover to the services organisation, if you start slowly your never going to get there. All government departments worked with so far have wanted to prove it can work on a process before they begin.

Should you approach top-down or bottom-up when implementing?...

Jason... Top Down, you need senior leader engagement. Without good senior level sponsor you're not going to get the technology and the resources you need. Good ideas come from the bottom up.

Chris... RPA is not for Christmas. It is a strategic initiative. It needs to come from the top down with appropriate rigour and robustness. Adoption comes from the bottom up.

Steve... Exec sponsorship. Finding places where it will work comes from the grass roots. Its not going to be a cheap option so there needs to be a commitment of money, desire and drive from the top.

Jason... Thomas Reuters is a provider of legal information and some of the processes existed form the 1700's . When using RPA there was a realisation that given the opportunity to start again it would be done in a completely different way. RPA now gives us the opportunity to do our processes completely differently.

Leigh... People do the processes they are taught, in the manner they were first taught, without necessarily knowing why they did it that way. Let's ask the right questions. RPA isn't always the answer. Understanding the process to discover whether its right for RPA, right for redesign or right to get rid of it entirely.

Chris... RPA is an opportunity for re-engineering. There was a situation where a process improvement identified during the RPA work was actually rolled out before automation was brought in.


Another fantastic event, held in a wonderful location with a panel of interesting speakers who provided a good contrast of answers even though they mostly agreed with each other. A little more debate would have been interesting.

There were many interesting audience questions, which in the interests of time I haven't included here but I will follow up in a future blog post, subscribe to future posts by completing the mailing list details on the right of the page.

If you are looking to start or scale your RPA and AI journey then please contact us at Wzard Innovation to learn more about how working alongside a partner can accelerate the pace of your journey.


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