The robots are here to stay: How automation is affecting global business

20 Feb 2018

How are robotic processes helping organisations? Image: Besjunior/Shutterstock

A global Deloitte survey shows that robotic process automation will be universally adopted in just five years.

Deloitte’s report on robotics adoption around the globe shows that overall, 53pc of more than 400 executives surveyed are implementing robotic process automation (RPA) in their organisations, with 33pc of Irish respondents introducing these processes.

RPA is the use of robots or robotics on computer systems to support more effective processing of data, and includes programmes that replace the need for humans to perform repetitive, rules-based tasks.

It is seen as an entry point to more complex and ambitious cognitive automation initiatives, which leverage natural language processing, machine learning, advanced analytics and cognitive chatbots.

Robotics are becoming more widespread

RPA is in line with the top priorities of businesses around the globe as well as in Ireland, with 76pc of all surveyed planning to increase investment in the area over the next three years.

In an Irish context, 87pc of respondents believe RPA has met or exceeded expectations in terms of reducing costs and boosting productivity, with 74pc noting improved quality and accuracy as a result of implementing it. Improvements in project timelines and regulatory compliance were also noted by respondents.

Globally, the payback periods are very positive, as those surveyed reported payback periods of less than 12 months, with an average of 20pc of full-time equivalent (FTE) capacity provided by robots. Organisations based in Ireland are more cautious, citing payback periods of less than 24 months, with 17pc of FTE capacity provided by robots.

Intensifying interest in robotics

Donal Lehane, consulting partner at Deloitte, commented: “Over the past year, there has been intensifying interest in robotics and automation, and the findings of this survey demonstrate that it is a clear strategic priority for organisations in Ireland, and indeed globally.

“Here in Ireland, financial services organisations are leading the charge on RPA exploration and adoption. However, the findings also show that public sector organisations also expressed strong interest in implementing this new technology.

“The potential for this technology to reduce costs in particular has been highlighted. However, while technology will contribute to some loss of jobs, Deloitte research indicates it will create more jobs, which, on average, are higher-skilled and higher-paid.

The findings indicate that while Irish organisations recognise the benefits of it, scaling RPA is proving more difficult. Just 2pc of Irish respondents have scaled their digital workforces to 50 or more robots. At a global level, the ability to implement the technology remains similar to those reported last year, as only 3pc of respondents have managed to scale RPA to a level of 50 or more robots.

The top five challenges identified by those respondents who have implemented and scaled RPA were process standardisation, IT buy-in and support, integration and flexibility of solution, stakeholder buy-in, and expectations and employee impact.

“RPA deployed at scale involves significant architectural challenges, hybrid agile delivery methods and a shift to a DevOps culture to facilitate the ongoing maintenance and control of the solution,” advised John Kilbride, head of robotics and cognitive automation at Deloitte Ireland.

The report also explores use of other cognitive technologies and noted that as organisations progress in their adoption of RPA, they tend to become more ambitious. More than a quarter (28pc) of those global respondents implementing and scaling RPA are also implementing cognitive automation, while only 6pc of those that have not implemented RPA are progressing with cognitive automation.

RPA can fuel both the interest in and the agility required for other digital technologies, enabling organisations to move further on the digital automation journey. In terms of reducing employee resistance to RPA, companies that reported a positive reception noted that engaging their workforce in the design and implementation of these new technologies helped them feel more at ease.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects