Business Process Management (BPM)

Debunking the myths of the robotic revolution

This is a contributed article by Keshav R. Murugesh, Group CEO, WNS Global Services; Chairman NASSCOM BPM Council, India


There is no escaping the fact that the pace of robots and smart machines rapidly picked up in 2015. Robots are absolutely everywhere, they are dominating our cinema screens, self-driving on our roads, surgically assisting doctors in our hospitals and streamlining business operations at our place of work. This intensification of the robotic revolution certainly marks an exciting time and a sign for many that the future really is now.

The truly exciting news is that the story of the robotic revolution is only just beginning and we have a lot to look forward to. However, as the narrative intensifies in 2016, it becomes easier for myths and misconceptions to appear. In this article I would like to set the record straight and unveil some of the most common misconceptions that I believe are already significantly influencing common perceptions around robotic process automation (RPA) at work.


The Terminator Complex – are robots taking over the world?

The increasing integration of RPA into business processes, alongside the saturation of our popular culture with robots, has led to the socialisation of RPA and a subsequent panic mentality among workers. This stems from fears around the potential for this technology to replace humans in the workplace, particularly those undertaking manual employment. In reality, this is a common misconception in the evolving debate around automation in the workplace.

RPA was introduced specifically to automate routine and mundane tasks, with a view to freeing up employee bandwidth to allow workers to focus on core business objectives. By eliminating the need for humans to perform certain manual duties, it facilitates opportunities for those staff to be creative, rather than taking jobs away from human workers. It is for this reason that leading businesses across multiple industries are using RPA as a vital component of a broader digital transformation strategy.

In fact, the organisations that are best at using RPA will not see it as a process independent of human intervention, but one with many opportunities for humans to work alongside robots. The term 'cobotics' has been used a lot in recent times, highlighting how important the human input into automated processes really is. Human judgement is of paramount importance when it comes to the implementation of RPA and only reinforces the notion that the purpose of automotive processes is to streamline human labour and not replace it.


RPA - a new innovation?

Due to the significant increase in attention given to debates over automation as an alternative to human labour, along with the cutting edge technology associated with such processes, one could be led to believe that this is a trend that has risen up overnight. In reality, this is also a widespread misconception. Whilst the sophistication of RPA may have ramped up since it was first introduced, automated processes are far from new. For example, structures such as Interactive Voice Response Systems have been using inbound call centers for years, and optical character recognition or software robots are hardly a novelty to experienced BPM practitioners. Another example is the use of automation in customer service scenarios; by building a knowledge base of FAQs, customer queries can often be resolved by automated responses, a concept that has been around for some years.

The fact that RPA has been developing in the background for so long must go some way to demonstrating the limited threat automaton poses to the workforce and the role it can play in helping enterprises gear up for a strategic shift.


The real value of RPA

Despite all the misconceptions, the value RPA has in the modern enterprise cannot be disputed. It is being increasingly implemented by BPM providers for high-volume and repeatable processes such as transaction processing and data entry, freeing workers to think creatively and use their time to focus on core business goals. In terms of variation, RPA has a huge number of applications and can help to simplify data gathering and analysis, enhance flexibility, improve compliance by providing detailed audit logs, as well as enabling 24-hour flexibility that could not be achieved by a single manual worker. There’s no doubt about it – robots are accurate and they do not get tired.

Implementing RPA can go a long way in reducing costs and has the potential to save millions if used the right way. Ultimately, business is about driving revenue to improve the bottom-line; automation can play a big role in reducing costs, by allowing workers to focus on their core business processes that drive revenue.

As we move towards a more connected, technology-oriented world, RPA is likely to play a much more prominent role in the BPM industry, with businesses devoting significant chunks of their budget to it. Undoubtedly, real-world robots have a vast number of enterprise applications; in order to appease the fears around a robot workforce revolution, what is important is identifying how RPA can optimize the work of employees further, rather than how it might be taking away their jobs. Automation is set to become an integral facet of enterprise processes and it is vital that businesses harness it effectively in order to keep ahead of competition.


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