The ‘rise of the robots’ – why it’s not all bad news

By Simon Coughlin, Senior Account Director

Robots will take half of jobs”, “Poorest to fare worst in age of automation”, “We’d better plan now, before it’s too late”.

The above are just three headlines recently published in mainstream media – there were many more to choose from – when I researched and started to write this blog focusing on robotics.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is certainly a hot topic. Recently the independent think tank ‘The Centre for Cities’ estimated that by 2030 nine areas in the UK could lose more than a quarter of jobs to automation and artificial intelligence (AI), with roles in shops, administration and warehouses most at risk.

Much of the media coverage of such studies focuses on the potential negative impact of robotics, with calls for changes to the education system to make sure young people have the skills they need for the future workplace.

While the government has recognised the need for further skills development, it is also investing in robotics research. In 2017, as part of the government’s digital strategy, it pledged £17.3m of funding for research carried out by British universities.

Political support for RPA development is great news for the UK tech sector. Many of our clients at Whiteoaks are harnessing the power of robotics to help their customers streamline processes, reduce costs, enhance customer service and allow their people to focus on the aspects of their job that only humans can do.

These benefits are starting to be seen in organisations across multiple sectors, including finance, insurance, legal and local government:

 

Finance: Since the 2008 financial crisis, measures have been introduced to separate the risk-taking aspect of financial markets from the ordinary provision of financial services, as well as strengthen banking regulation. 

Financial institutions now have teams dedicated to complying with a raft of regulations, much of which involves analysing large amounts of data from various business lines and systems. The growth of RPA is already having a huge impact on this process, helping to reduce costs and ensure accurate reporting. The development of intelligent RPA may be able to further replicate human decision-making and further disrupt banking compliance.

 Insurance: Insurance has always been held back by its disparate legacy systems, databases and data formats, along with the vast cost involved in installing entirely new back-office systems

Now RPA is bridging these gaps, with many insurance businesses deploying robots in claims and applications processing, achieving substantial increases in productivity and accuracy, while reducing costs substantially. More innovative businesses are moving towards the automation of decision-making in front-office functions such as underwriting.

 Legal: Record-keeping and documentation is the foundation of the legal industry, and much of it remains paper-based. Staff spend much of their time organising and searching for documents, meaning RPA has the potential to make a significant contribution.

 Robots could be used to process scanned stacks of paperwork and digitise client information. Using character recognition technology, they can automate the transfer of data between the scanned files to a new system. They can even be used to locate missing information within files, work which would usually take many man hours.

 Local government: In recent years councils have been under increasing pressure to do more with less. The challenge is set to continue – the Local Government Association (LGA) recently said that local authorities face a funding gap of £5.8bn over the next two years.

 RPA has the power to reduce the amount of time people spend on repetitive tasks, such as tax calculation and revenue collection, allowing them to focus on providing quality services. Take the example of a council contact centre; when a call is received, a robot can instantly find information and retrieve cases about the individual while the member of staff continues the conversation.

 

As the above shows, the rise of the robots is set to have multiple benefits for organisations. Roles across various sectors will be impacted in the drive for greater productivity.

For those working in tech PR, our challenge is to ensure we are well positioned to face questions and educate against assumptions concerning the negative impact of RPA, allowing clients to clearly demonstrate how automation can help organisations thrive.