‘Taking the robot out of the human’

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a hot topic nearly everywhere at the moment, and is also starting to develop within the collections environment. RPA involves using robots to carry out specific functions quicker, and with a greater degree of accuracy and consistency, than a human would be able to do. It broadly comes in two forms:

  • Attended applications, which sit on the desktop alongside the collections agent and work in tandem with the human agent, carrying out certain mundane parts of the process, while the agent handles more complex tasks.
  • Non-attended applications, which function independently and are able to access the system and carry out functions or processes without any human intervention.

Augmenting – a robotic helping hand

We have found that the robots can create considerable benefits by taking away some of the manual work that is involved in all collections activity.

For example, in our field-collections work, it was previously a considerable manual job to gather the information from multiple sources to send to each of the agents; now this work is all performed by robots.

However, it is not generally a question of replacing agents, but rather supporting and augmenting what they do. So the time which is now not spent on mundane repetitive tasks, can instead be used, for example, on more complex, judgement-intensive tasks, which is often what the employee was hired to do.

Robots have been successfully deployed throughout the back-office suite as a complementary tool, which provides a competitive edge.

Increased accuracy

The initial perception is, perhaps, that RPA is merely a cost-saving measure and, although this is true, in practice, there are additional benefits, such as significant improvements in accuracy and speed, plus reduced training times for agents, as they have the support of the ‘robot team’.

As human beings, we are not actually very good at – nor do we much enjoy – carrying out endlessly repetitive and mundane tasks over a prolonged period of time, as this leads to mistakes, which can be costly to an organisation. Robots, of course, are extremely good at carrying out these tasks.This is, as we say ‘taking the robot out of the human’ and freeing the human up to do high value, and more stimulating, work.

On the journey

The use of these robots is now very much ingrained within our processes and culture, both internally and in the services that we can offer to clients, but we are also aware that we are only dealing with a technology which is in its very infancy in terms of widespread adoption.

At the moment, people are starting to understand the empowerment of bots and agents working more closely together, so that we treat the bots like agents, but with different skill-sets; the bots carrying out the mundane tasks, and the agents doing the cognitive work, where they excel.The next steps will be to make bots even smarter, by harnessing the power of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

RPA, coupled with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and AI, will allow us to tackle unstructured data, which is currently challenging for bots to handle.

In this way, we see that we are on the cusp of intelligent automation, where the bots learn what the best processes to automate are, then start to automate them by themselves.

However, again, it is a question of augmentation rather than replacement – there will always be a need for the unique skills of empathy and understanding that a human can bring.

Debbie Nolan
Commercial director,
Arvato Financial Solutions