RPA: focus on the tasks not the processes

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

There’s a current buzzword that has taken digital enterprises by storm: RPA (Robotic Process Automation), a term that relates to software rather than physical robots. And an approach that focuses on automating tasks — rather than focusing only on end-to-end processes. To that end, one can look at RPA from the perspective of automation and efficiency…but I would contend that well-applied RPA also can be a lever for Employee Experience by removing repetitive clerical tasks. RPA can yield fast results and preserve organizational agility while making a better workplace.

As Leslie Willcocks, professor of technology, work, and globalization at the London School of Economics, states in a McKinsey interview, “RPA takes the robot out of the human.” What’s left is an employee who can offer up more valuable, strategic work such as customer engagement and data analysis.

The starting point

To begin, it’s important to note that basic RPA bots rely on rules-based data and repetitive steps. They are great for tasks such as filling in forms, scraping web data, making calculations, moving files and folders, and reading and writing to data bases.

Some business drivers include speed and accuracy. For example, a recent Harvard Business Review writeup of RPAs in the financial industry reported that an RPA bot executed credit analysis tasks 15 times faster, with almost no errors.[1]  While Deloitte’s third-annual RPA study notes that “RPA continues to meet and exceed expectations across multiple dimensions including: 92% improved compliance, 90% improved quality/accuracy,86% improved productivity and 59% cost reduction.”[2]

Freeing up energy with RPA

Last year, Schneider launched a global program to identify and prioritize RPA integration in areas such as finance, HR, global supply chain, enterprise IT, and customer care. Today, we have 170 active RPAs throughout the Enterprise.

On average it takes four weeks to develop an RPA and another four to six weeks for business benefits to be realized. One big payoff comes with customer-facing applications. We are streamlining the customer care experience of returning merchandise, for example, handing off the necessary authorization step to a bot that is reducing the 8- to 10- minute manual process by more than half the time. This is eight hours of effective time per day that we can give back to our front-line teams so that can focus on what really matters for our customers.

In fact, we believe that RPA is one of the core technologies fueling Schneider’s “Free Up our Energy,” a company-wide program dedicated to empowering the front-line teams by cutting out unnecessary tasks and enabling them to spend more time with our customers. For example, we’re proactively automating customer orders received in different formats, eliminating this tedious task and, in turn, freeing up employees to use this time to talk to more customers, cross-sell Schneider products, or conduct other value-added tasks.

Creating more intelligent RPAs

We’re actively moving the needle from basic RPA to intelligent RPAs (or intelligent process automation, IPA). There’s a known fact that the rational part of a brain (the prefrontal cortex) doesn’t fully develop until age 25. It is at this age that people start making better decisions, improving their judgment, and having foresight. You could say the same thing about intelligent process automation. Thanks to machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and, more broadly artificial intelligence, we’re seeing a maturity curve unfolding fast before us where RPAs get much more exciting.

Intelligent RPAs can automate non-routine tasks to drive operational efficiencies and business growth, including evaluating suppliers, identifying parts for service orders, following up on purchase orders, monitoring workflow, and determining when invoices are due.

For example, we’re piloting cognitive intelligence in the form of an RPA bot that can narrow the window of service visit times. End-users, therefore, can schedule service visits more accurately in order to proactively plan for downtime. In another pilot in the U.S., Singapore, and Australia, an IPA can use images to determine part numbers needed to facilitate procurement. This capability saves time and ensures that field service engineers show up for the visit with the right part.

Those looking at integrating intelligent process automation across their business operating model can streamline workflows and eliminate historical, inefficient silos. We believe that — beyond efficiency — this also can be a driver for better employee experience and a more customer-centric workplace.

Fueled by AI

Artificial intelligence is one of the major breakthroughs fueling intelligent RPAs. There are many other ways companies are realizing return on AI investment. No worries if your core expertise is centered on specific domain knowledge instead of AI. You can connect with and collaborate with AI specialists within the Schneider Electric Exchange digital ecosystem to advance your intelligent RPA projects and solve difficult efficiency and sustainability problems.


[1] Leslie Willcocks in McKinsey Interview, “The value of robotic process automation”, March 2017.
[2] Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau, “How to break down work into tasks that can be automated”, Harvard Business Reviex, February 20, 2019.
[3] Results from the automation of 50 to 70 percent of tasks studied across industries. Federico Berruti, Graeme Nixon, Giambattista Taglioni, and Rob Whiteman, McKinsey, “Intelligent process automation: The engine at the core of the next-generation operating model”, march 2017.

Tags: , ,