Software Robots Are Transforming Old Guard Industries

Opinion

Everyone’s talking about robots and automation. Do you imagine having a “Rosie” cleaning your home, or the next industrial revolution of automation putting millions out of work? Neither is quite reality, but there is a highly valuable virtual workforce of “software robots” working in today’s offices. They aren’t rolling around like BB-8 delivering the mail, but they are putting the “human” back into a lot of jobs, saving companies money and making them more competitive.

Software robots mimic humans, but live in the cloud or in the data center. They are the ethereal versions of their machine cousins – following business rules to execute processes within and across systems. Their people managers can configure software robots to drive any application – without code. And unlike traditional computer software, they teach the machines how to complete tasks. Any rules-based procedures – administrative, repetitive processes – are fitting work for a virtual workforce of software robots.

Surprisingly, the use of software robots is growing fastest not in slick tech companies but in old-guard industries like financial services and insurance, where robotic process automation (RPA) can help them be more competitive by taking over slow and laborious back office operations and supporting digital transformations and mobile applications, allowing human employees to have a more significant impact on customer experience and loyalty.

These early adopters of automation and software robots have a lot in common: large customer bases they want to protect, complex product portfolios, and a history of burdensome regulatory environments. They are also under immense pressure from new market entrants: agile startups that aren’t saddled by legacy systems to slow them down.

Back-office operations for these companies are ripe opportunities for software robots. They can quickly realize the benefits of RPA in back office transactions like insurance claims, invoice processing, and others where high volumes of transactions can be processed faster without human error, increasing speed and accuracy. Take for example The Co-operative Bank, a Blue Prism customer that deployed a virtual workforce of software robots to manage its excess queue procedure. Previously, eleven individuals worked eight hours per day to manually process 2,500 high-risk accounts each day. With RPA implemented, nine of these team members have taken on proactive account management positions – engaging with customers to discuss account issues before they arise.

Perhaps most significantly to IT, there is no need to abandon or add layers to legacy platforms. This last bit is important: banks and insurers have hundreds of legacy (and often proprietary) systems they don’t want to replace, nor should they. The right software robots are built to be non-invasive and don’t require customization of existing IT systems.

But efficiency is only one driving force for companies today: 74 percent of insurance companies surveyed by Forrester in North America, for example, said improving the experience of their customers is their number one initiative in the next 12 months. With that in mind, we’re beginning to see companies making more sophisticated decisions about what business functions are automated: while insurance providers can use software robots to process insurance claims behind the scenes without human intervention, consumers expect to have a real person answer the phone when they call a hotline. Automating straightforward tasks that are done the same way every time allows humans to handle the jobs that require improvising in a way that robots can’t handle.

The next wave of massive software robot adoption will happen in the healthcare industry, where driving down costs and improving patient experiences and care are paramount. Like in other old-guard industries, healthcare is burdened by legacy systems, complicated regulatory environments, and huge pressure to drive down costs. The efficiencies to be gained without adding IT burdens is tremendous. Alsbridge, a global sourcing, benchmarking, and advisory firm, recently predicted that RPA in claims processing alone could save the healthcare industry more than $1 billion. But imagine the possibilities in healthcare – from the back-office administration (claims processing, patient record reconciliation, pharmacy stock controls) to customer service improvements (self-service check-ins, appointment scheduling). Who can imagine a better place than a hospital to take out unnecessary burdens of red tape and enable people to focus on people?

Technology has always changed the way we do business, and that trend isn’t slowing down any time soon. The opportunity before us is to use automation smartly, in a way that allows us to be more human in our jobs. We have emotional and intellectual intelligence that software robots can’t replicate or automate, so let’s put it to better use.

Alastair Bathgate is the CEO and co-founder of Blue Prism. Follow @tiptoptaps

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