James Hall is the Founder and CEO of Genfour, the robotic process automation (RPA) and AI delivery specialist. He founded Genfour in 2012, driven by a strong belief that back office processes could be more effectively operated utilising new automation approaches. Genfour has since grown rapidly and now provides a number of large organisations – including esure, RAC Limited and The Co-Operative Bank – with full life cycle solutions to help them evaluate, implement, maintain and operate RPA using the Genfour Autonomic Platform (GAP).
Writing exclusively for AIBusiness.org, James gives his expert overview of the power of AI and what it means for business, followed by five ways AI will change and benefit the workplace…
Whether we like it or not, artificial intelligence (AI) and robots are set to become a big part of the future workforce, and experts predict that future developments will create limitless interaction between humans and machines.
A report recently published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that up to 5.1 million jobs could be lost over the next five years within the top 15 global leading economies as a result of disruptive labour market changes such as AI. It’s more likely, however, that people’s jobs will evolve to work alongside AI. People will still have jobs, but they will just be different jobs. We will need to find new avenues to channel our creative and instinctive energies as a species.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
The developments outlined by the WEF report have been heralded as ‘the fourth industrial revolution’. According to the report, within the next 15-20 years, we will see technologies “blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres”. WEF founder Klaus Schwab says that these changes will “fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another”.
The message coming from recent Japan and UK robotics and AI conferences has been this: if your job is easily defined, then it will be automated. Stark headlines indeed. So the real challenge we face is this: How quickly can people re-skill and adapt to create more from this technical opportunity, and what does the future company look like, given these predictions?
Harnessing the power of AI
So what exactly can AI do for us? To start, it can bring us the potential for efficiency, accuracy and effectiveness, and it can be combined into intelligent systems to deliver disruption on a massive scale, which will allow us to make better use of resources and reduce waste and improve services.
The health industry was one of the first to begin reaping the benefits of AI, using AI software to detect diseases, follow up diagnoses and carry out routine procedures. While robots take care of these routine tasks, healthcare workers can better deploy their expertise elsewhere. For a system under pressure, it’s no wonder healthcare has been quick to adopt.
Silicon Valley is investing in the early adopters of AI, using machines that analyse and act on data in an intelligent way. One example is Amazon, who have built success based on smart algorithms using massive amounts of data to predict what products we want to buy, at what price and how quickly it can be delivered to us.
So, what will it mean for the workplace?
As ‘traditional’ job roles begin to disappear, new roles will emerge. People will no longer be office or even home based, but will be able to work from anywhere. Formal corporate structures will evolve to become a more agile, innovative work environment.
People won’t work from home so much as work from anywhere, in a scenario where humans and robots will work side-by-side. The “new” jobs could include operating artificial intelligence-based technology, augmenting the old jobs along the way.
We had a meeting, and the robots ran our company
Things could be unimaginably different – for example, at Genfour we have had instances where the whole team meets for a strategic business review, and the business keeps running with the help of our robots. It’s a truly ‘Automated Office’ and it could become the norm, with ‘Out Of Office’ quickly becoming a thing of the past.
AI is going to significantly affect enterprise as it will facilitate a higher level of work efficiency, increased productivity and lower downtime. Robots are already being deployed in big industries such as manufacturing and finance, and we will start to see more deployment as the benefits become more obvious. IOT and AI, when put together, can work better and bring about great changes in both the consumer market and business.
Replacement or enhancement?
Automation will mean we get more productive with fewer people. With that, the challenge we will face is – how quickly can people re-skill and adapt to create more from this technical opportunity?
By way of example, Facebook hasn’t replaced jobs, it has created new jobs that benefit society through the service it provides. In a similar way to Uber and AirBnB, these companies are about driving improved asset utilisation – where they will reduce jobs is at the middle administration level.
An additional benefit is the reduction our overall impact has on the environment – fewer new hotels, fewer cars on the road. Our challenge as leaders, thinkers and technologists is to re-equip humans to work alongside these technologies so the benefits are met.
This in turn will affect five key departments within the business, including finance, operations, marketing, customer service and HR.
1. Robots in finance
If you’re in an industry where auditability and control is critical, AI is well suited to help. It can centralise control of complex processes and data, giving auditors and financiers much more reassurance.
In the numbers environment, too, robots really will be able to do more for less, as well as provide tighter compliance. Providing increased auditability at reduced cost is important in the era we live in – a world where data is exploding at the same rate as regulatory requirements. AI can also be used to track trends which will help flag and reduce fraud, increasing compliance while reducing audit costs.
Of course, robot salaries don’t increase, so AI is inflation-agnostic, as well as being a cheaper alternative to traditional IT initiatives. Typically ROI can be achieved quickly with AI, with statistics showing payback in 3 – 9 months.
In addition, AI is significantly cheaper alternatives to Onshore or Offshore FTE.
2. Robots in operations
AI sits at the very heart of workplace operations. The sheer volumes of big data AI is capable of munching through will provide insight into processes which cite volumes and trends, suggesting organisational direction, savings and futures.
This means organisations will be able to incorporate analytics, processing and 100% accuracy, eliminating the risk of human error. In addition, AI will analyse from a global versus regional perspective, with the major benefit that it is also language-agnostic.
Operationally, Robotics Process Automation (RPA) will deliver consistent processes, on time and every time, reducing effort required for quality checking. In particular, RPA will mean that processes run seamlessly and without deviation. RPA has work queues functionality, enabling transaction processing to be scaled across any number of robots.
AI, on the other hand, can take in, read and act on unstructured, unpredictable and descriptive content. AI technologies are self-learning and teach themselves over time in a similar way to how a human will learn, make decisions and process information.
Automated processes can be quick to implement and get even quicker as more processes are automated. Both AI & RPA can cut out unnecessary steps in a process, with small changes managed simply and quickly.
Your robots will always be more reliable – a robot turns up for work every day. From an operational point of view you can expect 100% utilisation, plus they can be scheduled as per demand. Finally, in the future of the AI workplace, things will be done, on average, three times faster than a human.
3. Robots for IT
The future of the workplace run by robots will be IT, system and process agnostic; not only that, but AI can avoid long drawn out IT changes as well as provide the intelligence to inform potential IT programs.
Automation works through an application’s GUI, ensuring a footprint is left in the system and providing an audit trail of the robot’s actions. In addition, it is non-invasive and works through a front end GUI just as a human agent would. IT has control over the robots system access in the form of roles and privileges – so the existing application logic is applied. System exceptions can also help to highlight persistent application failures/issues.
From a technical headache point of view, AI can also be used to regression test business legacy applications. The AI instance itself sits on a virtual infrastructure in a secure data centre.
4. Robots for customer service
Robots will change our customer service departments, simply because in an ideal world, we as organisations will get back to being able to deploy staff on customer facing activities again. Given the level of accuracy improvements AI will deliver in vital parts of the organisation, we should be expecting a reduction in complaints.
With robotic processes being able to be started by various ‘triggers’ (e.g. a certain time on a clock, an embedded schedule, a human controller, a specific email/work piece being received), our services should be fail proof.
System exceptions can help to highlight persistent application failures, which means faults and issues can be flagged and addressed sooner.
5. Robots for HR
AI will have a huge impact in HR departments and contrary to the many negative reports of how robots will ruin our opportunities, robots can be given simple/repetitive jobs, leaving the humans to continue with trickier tasks.
Robots can be used to eliminate the ‘non value add’ tasks – for example, multi checking levels or authorisation points. This type of automated activity allows for business growth with no additional headcount, which means that HR can focus on retention over burn and churn. It also provides the opportunity to move work from off-shore to on-shore, benefiting the home economy of the organisation.
Most importantly, virtually all routine reporting can be generated by a robot – surely a bonus for all of us tasked with reporting. The focus can be applied to individuals on higher skilled work.
With AI, the workforce can be scaled at short notice and organisations can work longer hours without the HR headaches.
Is your workplace ready for robots?
Whilst the numerous benefits of AI across the organisation are listed above, only an audit or deep dive of your processes will help you decide how your organisation will benefit from the robots’ arrival.
The visual graphic below shows the extent of where AI may impact and drive progress within an organisation over time.
AI is a valid alternative to moving operations to lower cost regions, to automate the work whilst still retaining the knowledge of your processes where they are – ultimately, this is less disruptive to an organisation’s people and its operations.
Embracing AI will instead put a greater emphasis on companies understanding their processes in detail, forcing them to think and act to systemise their business operations – no bad thing.
If your organisation already operates shared services or outsources some of its business processes to a third party, then you could already be stepping up your automation capabilities.
Clearly, on a technology level, the arrival of the robots will introduce and employ more technologies and tools. You will need to make sense of these to assemble a preferred toolkit to handle the types of work you have.
An even greater challenge is to assemble the skillsets you will need in your remaining workforce to adapt and prosper in this new world. The change management challenge here has been very much underestimated so far.
The future will demand innovators, big thinking problem solvers and committed improvers to systemise operations, and with the power of AI, the automated future is looking bright indeed.
James Hall is the Founder and CEO of Genfour, the robotic process automation (RPA) and AI delivery specialist. James is passionate about supporting organisations in their quest for efficiency through the implementation of RPA solutions, or the Automated Office. Over the last 20 years, James has developed extensive experience in B2B services outsourcing. He has worked with a number of global companies, including Accenture, Exult/Hewitt, IBM and most recently with Capita. His primary focus has been to lead large, complex business process outsourcing arrangements across both the public and private sectors.
Throughout his career, James has worked for several global clients, including BP, Akzo Nobel, HSBC, Barclays, UBS, Avon, Philips, Volvo and Proctor and Gamble. James has worked internationally in East and West Europe, USA and Asia Pacific. He led the successful IT and applications deal with Siam Cement in Thailand, the first of its kind in Asia Pacific, and was instrumental in establishing Accenture’s outsourcing business in Australia.
James founded Genfour in 2012, driven by a strong belief that back office processes could be more effectively operated utilising new automation approaches. Genfour has since grown rapidly and now provides a number of large organisations – including esure, RAC Limited and The Co-Operative Bank – with full life cycle solutions to help them evaluate, implement, maintain and operate RPA using the Genfour Autonomic Platform (GAP).
James holds a MEng in Chemical Engineering from Imperial College, London, and an MBA from London Business School.