Data lies at the heart of every successful business. Intelligent decisions in choosing what data to collect, how to interpret it, and deciding which actions to take next all help drive companies to the top of their industries.
Incomplete or flawed data creates a chain reaction that can lead to severe and costly mistakes. Improved accuracy, efficiency, and increasingly detailed insights are some of the reasons organizations of all sizes are adopting Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
RPA uses software bots to automate activities that are repetitive, time-consuming, and rules-based. Automation reduces employee workload and churn, increasing the amount of time available for activities requiring uniquely human traits like creativity, strategy, or collaboration. RPA can also be more efficient, resulting in overall lower costs. But when it comes to preserving the integrity of data, that's where automation truly shines.
We’re only human
Omissions and errors at the point of data entry are common — and costly. MIT Sloan Management Review revealed that ‘dirty data’ costs the average business between 15 and 25% of its annual revenue.
One of the most common reasons for poor quality data is human error. In a 2020 survey, Experian found that organizations believed 28% of their customer and prospect data was inaccurate in some way. The Experian report notes: “Organizations are dealing with a high degree of inaccurate information. That information is the result of human error, a lack of checks and data monitoring, and a culture that typically thinks that data is another department’s problem.”
Automation can improve data’s overall quality and accuracy due to its ability to monitor, aggregate, and reconcile data from multiple sources.
For example, in the financial services industry, Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance is required to help institutions fight fraud and mitigate financial crimes such as money laundering. This once required a team of compliance experts to visit around 200 different regulatory websites each day and monitor for any changes that could impact the company’s status as KYC compliant. But now, software-powered bots can take over this process by logging into the websites and running a smart search to quickly capture new information. Then, the bots verify the new data against the company’s current compliance systems for any discrepancies.
Automation on this scale has the power to free employees from performing tasks like this while achieving unparalleled accuracy, efficiency, and speed.
Smarter than ever
Improving accuracy is just a fraction of what today’s RPA software can do. Because it’s now possible to integrate bots with such technologies as natural language processing (NLP), speech recognition, and optical character recognition (OCR), organizations can automate more complex data-driven processes, or parts of them, that were once unfit for automation.
For example, AI technologies such as computer vision and NLP can turn unstructured data, such as emails or invoices, into a structured format for bot interactions. Companies can use machine learning to identify patterns and make predictions about process outcomes, enabling RPA to prioritize tasks.
Process discovery, the pre-implementation phase where organizations decide which processes are best suited to automation, was once costly and time-consuming. It required weeks or even months with on-site consultants who manually monitored employee workflows and made their recommendations. Advancements in automation now make it easier for organizations to move from the discovery phase to the implementation and optimization of RPA more quickly.
The increasing value of automation
The continued integration of evolving technologies like computer vision and machine learning makes automation a tool that constantly increases in value. Handwritten documents were once a bottleneck to automation, but now RPA can process all but the most illegible paperwork thanks to artificial intelligence.
Most of us are familiar with website chatbots that answer customer questions and guide them through self-service support. This technology can be used for training and development and self-guided support in the workplace, allowing bots to understand informal speech and text patterns.
Automation adds value by reducing reliance on supervisors and IT departments. Employees can interact with bots that help them problem-solve. Bots can also reinforce policies and processes employees should follow when getting work done. It’s important for employee training bots to have a solid foundation of high-quality, accurate data that is consistent across the organization.
Processing and managing data isn’t the only area where RPA excels. It can provide actionable information, too. By automatically aggregating and analyzing data across the organization, and then providing insights tied to actions, businesses can access deep intelligence for strategic planning and trendspotting.
Low barrier to entry makes automation accessible
Often when people are hesitant to move towards automation, they have concerns about costs, complexity, and knowledge barriers. However, it’s never been easier to get started with RPA. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and cloud-based solutions offer the benefits of automation without substantial upfront costs and time-consuming installation. What used to take months now takes days. These cloud services also play well with legacy systems and offer the ability to scale up and down as needed.
The best RPA solutions do the heavy lifting for employees, from discovering which processes are ideal for automation to creating, deploying, and managing bots. Automation should support people, not make work more complicated. Improved user interface and drag-and-drop capabilities make it simple for any department to quickly discover and automate high-volume activities without a steep learning curve.
While some people may resist delegating tasks to a bot at first, a recent use case showed that after realizing the benefits of the first stage of automation rollout, employees eagerly embraced RPA. Visma|Raet is part of Norway-based Visma AS, one of Europe’s leading providers of business cloud software solutions. They turned to automation for help with high-volume, repetitive HR processes and to reduce costly human errors. Some employees were initially hesitant about the idea of automation, but as the initiative took off, their attitudes quickly changed. Offloading labor-intensive and repetitive tasks and gaining more time during the day for more satisfying work had people at Visma looking forward to the next phase.
What matters most
The proven benefits of improved accuracy, efficiency, and hours saved are indisputable. What matters most is how future-ready the automation solution is. It must easily integrate with existing systems and future technologies. Bot scalability is crucial for handling wide fluctuations in a 24/7 economy. And most of all, for widespread adoption, it must be simple for business users to implement without relying on highly specialized technical experts.
It’s easy to see automation as a means to improve the quality of data or streamline complicated processes, but ultimately the true benefit of RPA is time. And time is money. By preventing errors in the first place and automating high-volume, repetitive tasks, employees gain more time for the things that matter. If automation saved your team members one or two hours each workday, what could your company accomplish? Strategic planning, competitive analysis, innovation, collaboration; the possibilities are endless.
Shay Antebi, chief technology officer at Kryon Systems, wrote this article.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/SIphotography