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As we continue to move forward in digital transformation, an increasing number of companies are discovering the promise of robotic process automation (RPA). In a nutshell, RPA allows companies to gain efficiencies and (hopefully) save money by automating routine tasks. RPA is what I’d call the low-hanging fruit of artificial intelligence. It’s governed by structured input. Its processes are mundane and rule-based. It doesn’t require the deep, complex system or infrastructure integration that other more substantial AI requires. Best yet, it frees up your employees to work on higher-value projects, rather than repetitive day-to-day tasks. And for that reason, it’s become a hot commodity. Forrester says RPA will be a $1.5 billion business by 2020. This spending is a boon for vendors like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism that are at the forefront of this product offering.
But rather than more “philosophical” use cases for RPA, let’s look at how businesses are using RPA in the real-world right now—and how your organization may benefit as well.
Improve Marketing Operations
Technology like AI in marketing is nothing new, but companies are now turning to RPA to speed up the processes throughout the marketing funnel from lead generation to customer experience. Pega, another vendor in the RPA space, offers a full suite of marketing solutions from an advertising manager to a customer journey hub. Each solution allows companies the opportunity to personalize messages for each customer, blowing away the competition. Given the sometimes negative perceptions that consumers can have toward banking institutions, PNC Financial Services wanted to improve its customer experience and turned to Pega’s marketing technology. With data, analytics, and a 360-degree view of the customer journey, PNC was able to increase revenue, improve the customer experience, improve online marketing efforts and increase employee satisfaction and productivity.
Routing Emails – Saving Thousands of Hours and Increasing Productivity
Insurance company, American Fidelity, despite some initial reluctance, has found incredible time savings using RPA solutions from UiPath. Playfully using the project tagline “Drop the Drudgery” helped employees realize that they could use RPA to do the task they probably didn’t want to do anyways. They quickly automated a number of customer-facing tasks to improve business and didn’t stop there. They looked for a way to handle one of their biggest time sucks — classifying and routing incoming customer emails.
Employees used to have to read each email, tag it and reroute it to the proper channel, but by using RPA and machine learning it was able to decrease processing speeds from 45 hours to a mind-cracking 3 seconds. Again, the value isn’t just in saving time. It’s what your employees are doing in the remaining 44 hours and 57 seconds that will make American Fidelity successful. But the power of RPA in creating that time cannot be overestimated. This is a great example of how businesses use RPA.
Claims Processing – Increasing Capacity
Safe-Guard Products, a North American based insurance company, automated the claims submission process reducing the number of times a single employee had to handle a claim. The time it took to process a claim was reduced by 75 percent. The team’s overall productivity and capacity to handle claims was increased by 30 percent. Using tools from UiPath, another company was similarly able to cut its claims processing times by 50 percent, again creating greater bandwidth for employees to better serve their clients.
Retail Fraud Detection
We’ve all received those messages from our credit card company alerting us when something may or may not have been “off” with our retail activity. Imagine how difficult it would be for humans to track the millions of transactions happening online in real time. Again using tech from UiPath, a leading global investment bank was able to reduce the amount of time spent on fraud claims from 45 minutes to 20 minutes and eliminate human interaction completely.
Data Verification – Faster and More Productive
Remember: the value derived from RPA isn’t just monetary. It can also come in the form of customer satisfaction due to increased accuracy (reduced human error) and efficiency. One company, State Auto Insurance Companies, has automated 47 tasks with bots verifying data being transferred from different applications. The bots have saved more than 53,000 staffing hours since the company began working with UiPath two years ago.
Again using RPA technology from Pega, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was able to reduce its payment process from months to days using grant management tools. The organization distributes more than $600 billion in grants and agreements each year. In the past, disparate systems brought pieces together made quick payment processing difficult.
Healthcare companies are spending a lot of time and resources to digitize their patient records. The Family Medical Center of Hart County, Kentucky had over 30 years of records to digitize which would’ve taken employees thousands of hours. Instead of doing it by hand, the medical center turned to Automation Anywhere and their software robots to do the work for the employees. Thirty years of data was transferred over in 24 hours with zero data loss or errors. This is just one example of many that show how much time and effort can be saved.
Those who have adopted RPA early have shown positive results overall. One study showed that they see a positive return on investment within 18 months of deployment. Indeed, half of companies using RPA say they saw positive return in that time period, with the other half breaking even.
A Final Word on RPA
A quick caveat before I profess RPA as a savior to drive your company forward. As with any new technology, RPA can be difficult to implement. A report from Deloitte showed that just 3 percent of companies have been able to scale RPA to more than 50 bots at a time. In some instances, the bots may lead to saved time, but not saved money. It all depends on how you use the bots and the time you save from them.
No single technology will keep your business alive if you don’t also have the culture and focus on customer experience that drive business today. Second, by its very nature, RPA is limited. It’s task-specific. It isn’t designed to respond well to, say, sudden changes in data input. It isn’t agile. And for that reason, you need to put your expectations into perspective. New market entrants like Clear Software are steering the conversation toward IPA (no, not the beer), but an acronym for Intelligent Process Automation (or similar variations), which speaks to the power of humans and machines working together, rather than just deploying simpler RPA solutions.
So all in all, the evidence and use cases are out there and growing by the day. RPA will save time and most likely save your company money. But like most Digital Transformation initiatives, it’s adoption will only be as strong as the overall culture of your company. And that part, inevitably, is up to you.
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.
The original version of this article was first published on Forbes.