The robots are waiting: What’s holding businesses back from automation?

26 Mar 2019

Image: Luke Maxwell/Silicon Republic

Deloitte’s robotics survey reveals the barriers to adoption of robotic process automation globally and in Ireland.

Deloitte’s global robotics survey sought input from hundreds of people in various industries, including many in Ireland, revealing key insights on the journey to robotic process automation (RPA).

Far from the physical autobots we often think of, or the increasingly available voice assistants powered by artificial intelligence, RPA specifically refers to computer-coded software performing repetitive, rules-based tasks.

Not only are RPA tools already being adopted by Irish companies, they are also seeing results beyond mere efficiency improvements. “The biggest finding is that Irish companies are actually already using robotic and cognitive automation and, of those companies, about 80pc of them say that their employees are much happier as a result,” said Aoife Connaughton, a senior manager in consulting at Deloitte.

Despite this encouraging early adoption, Deloitte’s report title – ‘The robots are waiting’ – tells us that something is keeping RPA in the wings, which Connaughton explained: “What we’ve also found is that a lot of those companies are actually struggling to scale. So they’ve started using [RPA], they’re looking at pilots but they haven’t actually scaled and reached the full benefit of the technology yet.”

According to the survey results, of those Irish companies that have started their RPA journey, just 3.5pc have scaled their digital workforce. Process fragmentation is identified as the primary barrier to scale, where a multitude of variables result in increased complexity and diminished capacity to establish individual automations. To tackle this, many organisations are combining their robotic process automation development with process re-engineering and cognitive technologies.

An RPA tool at work

RPA tools can transform administrative tasks, and Deloitte’s own team developed a robot called ‘Taxie’ for the tax division to demonstrate this.

Daryl Hanberry, a partner on Deloitte’s tax team, explained how the work done across finance functions involves a lot of data entry or transfer from one source to another, and manually performing these tasks can lead to errors and even demotivated staff who simply don’t want to take on this “administrative burden”.

“When you look at that process in detail, actually a lot of that is quite administrative-based,” explained Hanberry. “When we looked at what the Deloitte robotics team were doing here, those processes were seen as ideal for automation and that’s what we did.”

Three steps to automation success

For companies considering rolling out their own RPA tools, Connaughton offers a three-step process to follow.

“The first one is really making sure that there’s a strategic vision in place for automation and that the C-suite are really behind that.

“I think the second point is making sure that the IT team are on board – we know where IT aren’t fully supportive, it can tend to be a real blocker for automation.

“I think the third point is trying to make sure that there’s a business case that doesn’t just look at the financial benefits but looks at the full range of benefits that automation can offer,” she said.

Infographic summarising the results of the Deloitte survey, which can be accessed by clicking the link.

Infographic: Deloitte

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.