Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation: they promise to make your business processes more effective and efficient. What does it all actually mean? And what should you do with it as an entrepreneur or manager? Because you don't feel like throwing your carefully constructed IT environments back on their feet. Or to start a long, painful integration process. Our AI and RPA expert Stefan Leijnen answers a few important questions.
Deploying RPA means automating those human actions that take time and make mistakes (and are often just annoying) with software robots. For example, filling in digital forms.
Stefan: "That robotic in the term often causes confusion. But it's not about physical robots and there's no hardware involved. It is business process automation with software. The 'robotic' lies in the fact that we automate the human component of the process: the repetitive work that used to be done by humans".
But Stefan, we've been busy with digital transformation for years. SAP, Exact, Office 365, CRM systems, and so on and so forth... Do we have to rebuild all that when we start with RPA?
"No, that's a big advantage of automating 'on the front side', on the user side. If you want to automate the same business process 'at the back', you have to tie all those systems together. That is complex and requires a very clear long-term vision of your automation. Just like an employee, RPA works with screens and data. It's completely tech-agnostic and you don't have to change anything in your existing IT".
Robotic Process Automation is tech-agnostic and in principle you don't need to change anything in your existing IT systems.
And what's AI got to do with it?
"That's the second big advantage of RPA. You immediately start collecting process insights in the form of structured data, while automation 'at the back end' usually produces unstructured data. Based on that data, Artificial Intelligence can then map out business processes and automate your processes at a detailed level. AI can also take over some of the human interpretation tasks, such as checking data or recognizing documents".
So AI works inside and outside your business process to make the work more efficient?
"You can indeed make your operation much cheaper and more efficient. But you choose your goals for process improvement yourself. Other goals can be: fewer mistakes, shorter turnaround times, less fraud, less chance of data leaks or improved well-being of your employees.
"RPA isn't ready if you've automated existing processes. I think we should be more ambitious.'
The point is that RPA is not 'done' when you have automated your existing processes. You've already gained a lot of efficiency, but I think we should be more ambitious. How can my company develop further now that we have much more knowledge about our processes? Based on this knowledge, can we come up with completely new processes? The data from the RPA process enables you to get to know your customers better and adapt your products. There's a lot more profit there!
That's the technical side of the story. But what about within the organization? People's jobs are going to change dramatically, so there's going to be some resistance...
"It's important to get your people involved. The image that people are being 'automated away' is also wrong. RPA usually means that your tasks become more fun, because the boring work is taken over from you. Often you have a process of 10 steps, of which you can only automate 7. With the other 3 you need a human being. Human in the loop, that's what we call it. But it remains a complicated process. We also support our customers in that process. We want to be a partner for our customers and within Node1 we have a great drive to really mean something, especially in the non-technical field".
Finally, not all companies are working on automation and processes in this way yet. Why is that? And which companies do you think Node1 can best help?
The most important thing is that you see its value and really want to move forward. Roughly speaking, when it comes to RPA and AI, there are 3 types of businesses. Tech companies and startups have AI in their DNA. So they can usually do it without us. The other extreme are companies that simply have no interest in this technology, don't see the point of it. They have to go through a process themselves first. But in between you have a lot of companies that do see the potential, but are not 'digital' enough from start to finish and therefore don't have the knowledge in-house. They see that their market is changing, they see that their competitors are changing and that competitors are coming in from unexpected angles, and that they have to change as well. We can help those companies with their transformation.