Can Software Robots Really Eliminate Admin?

According to McKinsey & Company, 60% of jobs could automate 30% of their tasks. Forrester, a respected technology research company, estimates that by 2021, over 4,000,000 robots will be doing office, administrative, and sales- related tasks. That’s just two years away!

It’s often called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or Intelligent Automation (IA). The techies are going nuts over this shiny new thing, with tech companies promising revolutionary reductions in administration costs.

But what’s really going on? I spoke to Freeman Clarke Regional Director Andrew Hart to hear more about the reality of automation, and what we’re actually doing with mid-market businesses.

You can read a summary below or listen to the conversation here.

Graeme Freeman: What are software robots, and what do they really do?

Andrew Hart: We’re doing a lot of work with our clients using software robots to take over repetitive system tasks previously done by admin staff. It’s potentially a game-changer. The idea is to use tools to eliminate the kinds of jobs that people in offices do all the time: pull data from documents, emails and systems, get things from the web, update other systems and documents, read and send emails. That kind of thing.

Graeme Freeman: This sounds very impressive. Is this all about cost-saving?

Andrew Hart: Well, actually, this normally starts with the idea of saving costs, but generally the objectives change. Many of the people bogged down with repetitive tasks are experts in the business, systems and data – if they have more time available then they can make a real difference to enabling growth.

Graeme Freeman: So if it’s not really about cost-saving, what are the hard benefits?

Andrew Hart: Well, it is about cost-saving. But it’s not only about cost saving. Fundamentally, using software robots allows clients to simplify and standardize their business and to free up their experts.

Lots of companies are really complicated, especially if they’ve grown through acquisition, or if their customers or suppliers impose annoying processes and systems on them. Software robots can allow companies to automate a lot of this.

Also, for our clients who are in highly regulated sectors, these tools are very useful from a compliance point of view — reduction in errors, imposing controls and processes.

And a company with more software robots is well placed for growth. Directors know they can scale up far more simply and easily.

Graeme Freeman: Well that sounds great. What are the pitfalls?

Andrew Hart: There are plenty of pitfalls! Most importantly, our experience is that these projects are complicated and difficult to plan. IT experts and business experts need to be heavily involved and committed, rather than fighting to protect their jobs. So the entire project needs to be well-supported, well-communicated and part of a strategy.

The project should be driven on an incremental 80/20 approach all the time. Some ideas will work well, some not so well. It’s a gradual process of improvement rather than a quick win.

And once you have a large number of tasks automated then there will be frequent issues and you need people on hand to address them at affordable cost.

Graeme Freeman: So this is sounding like a mixed picture? What’s our conclusion?

Andrew Hart: Yes, the picture is mixed and of course the upsides are not as simple and clear as product vendors would claim!

Software robots are a way to transform businesses, but that’s never going to be easy. We would advocate this kind of project in particular circumstances and not in others. It’s not suitable for everyone.

It is vital to have in-house expertise in the tools or to have a good relationship with a provider who can help at a reasonable day-rate. So, yes, the mundane tasks can be shrunk, but they are replaced by a new technical maintenance task. This task is smaller, smarter and more value-adding — but, make no mistake, this is a complicated technology that needs maintaining, by well-paid humans.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional CIOs and CTOs. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. If you’d like to discuss how Freeman Clarke could support your business contact us now for a no-strings conversation.