Robotics: A Boon or a Bane?

By Rajendra Deshpande, CIO, Serco Global Services

BPO industry has come a long way since its beginning in the 1980s in India and is going through a new wave of evolution. Streamlined processes are the new rule of the day as the industry matures to reach a new level of sophistication in service delivery. The industry showed multi-fold growth between 2001 and 2002, when it was dubbed as the fastest growing industry in the country in a NASSCOM-McKinsey report. That was just the beginning, and the industry has undergone several cycles of change and evolution since then. 

Today, information technology is an indispensable part of every industry. As time has progressed, the BPO industry too has caught on to the wave of information technology to the extent that it has become a part and parcel of its processes. Speed, agility and precision are the keys to success in the industry today and information technology has played a major role in helping BPO companies service their clients in a better and more efficient manner. 

While cloud computing and analytics are the newest buzzwords in the BPM industry, another aspect that has found much acceptance is robotic automation. At its core, robotic automation aids organisations in capturing and interpreting actions of existing applications employed in various business process transactions, manipulate data, trigger responses and communication with other systems as necessary; in layman’s terms, making the systems more intelligent and automating mundane tasks so as to free up resource time, which is usually wasted in logging into various systems, keying in repetitive data for long hours etc. 

The technology is designed to reduce or eliminate the need for people to perform high-volume IT support, workflow, remote infrastructure, and back-office processes, such as those found in finance, accounting, supply chain management, customer service, and human resources.

Robotics can play a very important role in enhancing the quality of services in the BPO industry. Extensive studies in this context have shown that the overall spends on Robotics in the BPM industry will increase in the years to come. Although there is apprehensiveness now in the industry regarding this aspect, companies that make Robotics a native to their processes and offerings will thrive as competition gets more cut throat. 

Robotic Automation is slowly being implemented by BPM providers for transaction processing and data entry in high-volume and repeatable processes. With technology and automation turning out to be the key business drivers for BPM, the emergence of Robotics as an unassisted automation approach can deliver immense value creation at a comparatively lower risk and with significant cost benefits.

Robotics also has the potential to address key pain points in traditional “system of records” technologies, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform, though it has its limitations in terms of usability, especially pertaining to data formats and analyses. While Robotics can be a part of multiple processes, it should be seen as just one component of end-to-end process improvement.

Depending on the scope of implementation, RPA can offer a number of benefits. It can offer cost savings of 25 to 50 per cent, offer improved service delivery, simplify data gathering and analysis, enable process optimisation, enhance flexibility and improve compliance. According to a report by NASSCOM, RPA can result in 35 to 65 per cent cost reduction for onshore processes and 10 to 30 per cent in offshore delivery. Automation allows BPO companies work in closer tandem with clients, even from remote locations and deliver more efficient services at a lower cost.

Companies will need people who are skilled in implementing, managing and maintaining programmes. The lower and middle management levels will open up opportunities for people who have the right skills and hence there will be a requirement for people who will be able to operate and manage RPA platforms. 

The world is not new to such disruptions. We have all seen such uncertainty when Internet and outsourcing emerged the first time. However, what the industry and tech professionals particularly need to understand is to get over the paranoia of Robotics. Robotics is a reality and companies will eventually have to incorporate Robotics in their service offerings because of the benefits it offers in terms of growing business. 

However, the need of the hour is to understand the opportunities that Robotics brings along with it and be prepared for it. The significance of human judgment can never be overemphasized and Robotics only reinforces the modern business philosophy of reducing process complexity and staying lean, while deploying every single key resource to achieve more strategic outcomes.

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