August 1, 2017

Meet My Colleagues, Mr. and Mrs. Byte

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Kirsi Linke

Lead Enterprise Architect, Tieto

Software robotics is revolutionising the workplace and changing the world! The headlines can either see the potential of software robotics as a saviour bringing effectiveness, or as a threat making the human workforce obsolete. But what exactly are these robots that will transform our work life?

These efficient and conscientious workers will give employers many benefits.

  • Significant cost savings can be achieved when fewer workers are needed for routine tasks. Mr. Byte will work 24/7 if necessary.
  • Routine tasks can be performed up to ten times faster, which will reduce process lead-times.
  • 100% accuracy can be achieved, when there are no human errors.
  • Mrs. Byte will search and input information faster and more accurately than any of us.

So should we all hire a Mr. or Mrs. Byte?

All the things above are undeniable and measurable benefits that we would like to achieve. But like with any new recruitment, there must be good reasons for hiring Mr. or Mrs. Byte. There must be suitable tasks for the software robots and the benefits must be great enough to at least cover the implementation and maintenance costs.

"In the beginning, it was challenging to understand what a software robot actually can and cannot do. So we basically documented every task that requires manual work and takes more than a couple of seconds to complete. At first, the wish list of tasks that could and should be automated was long. But when we measured how much time the manual tasks actually do take, and compared the results to the RPA estimates of how much time and effort the automation of these tasks would require, the list became much shorter. It also became clear that some processes had just too many dependencies and possible ‘what if’ situations. In those cases, it would have been necessary to calculate the potential benefits of automation thoroughly before implementing anything."

The effectiveness of a software robot doesn’t depend only on its own efficiency. It is not enough that one part of the process has been made as effective and optimized as possible. The robot needs to be as effective as possible in relation to the whole process. Business processes tend to be long and require concerted efforts from many participants. We know that effective teamwork is based on how well the team members work together and know each other, and how meaningful their tasks are.

A Software Robot in a Team

But what happens to a team when they get a new team member who is a tireless and flawless hard-working Mrs. Byte – a robot who doesn’t need a lunch-break and never takes a vacation? How can you make sure the team continues to perform as well or better than it used to? And how do you make sure that everyone is still satisfied with their job in the new situation? The same rule applies here as in any form of teamwork. If you expect a team to work well, all the team members must have a common goal and they must know their own roles in the team. Each member must also have the knowledge and competence to perform their tasks. In the best-case scenario, the team members and their different areas of expertise will complement each other to create an effective whole.

"During the process, the entire team was kept up to date through team meetings and discussions. The implementation of software robotics was welcomed by the team. They had all seen how quickly our tasks and services are changing and how the system development hasn’t always been able to keep up with the pace. We understood very quickly, that involving the team from the start was a good idea. The team members had useful ideas and they wanted to be a part of the development process.”

What can a robot do?

Like for any team member, the most appropriate and suitable task needs to be found for a software robot. In order to do this, we must know the processes and the systems in use. They must be modelled and described to find the tasks best suited for the software robots. At the same time, it is important to ensure they wouldn’t be put to unnecessary tasks that could be completely done away with. Doing this requires collaboration between business, IT and robotics specialists. By ensuring that every team member feels they are doing their own important part of the process and giving them opportunities to develop, one of the promises of software robotics can be realized. When the employees can move from routine tasks to something more demanding, rewarding and value-creating, their job satisfaction is likely to rise.

"We analyzed different processes, especially those with repetitive tasks and with logical ‘yes or no’ phases. We also chose the processes that take a lot of time to complete and made sure we didn’t use any resources for totally unnecessary tasks. This way we were able to gain real benefits from software robotics."

"The tasks that a software robot can do were chosen by evaluating the complexity or simplicity of each task. If a person performs repetitive manual actions without any need for analytical thinking, that is a task that can be automated. It is important to involve the whole team in order to find suitable tasks for automation. The more processes we discuss and the more we listen to the opinions of the team members, the more ideas we get on how to use automation."

"Usually these are routine tasks, so the team will be more than happy to get a virtual teammate to take care of them."

"The team’s view of the software robot changed over time. The initial automation process was very challenging. It required complicated validations, which were partly difficult and laborious. That led to frustration among some of the employees working with the implementation. But now that the software robot is functioning well, the team is pleased – especially because no one needs to manually enter the data one by one."

A software robot repeats the same task tirelessly around the clock. However, it does not learn from what it is doing or develop its own activities by itself. A software robot’s efficiency and suitability for any given task is not self-evident or permanent. As long as they are just one part of the process, it is important that they are taken into consideration in the continuous planning and development of processes and tasks. That is why Mr. and Mrs. Byte should be brought along to team meetings and training sessions. We need to make sure that they continue to benefit the processes and have the requisites to perform their tasks well.

"The people who are working with software robots in automated processes are keeping their eye on the situation. These processes are quite dynamic and require human participation, so improvement ideas can be gained through the daily work."

"We're following the performance of the robots and looking into how the robots could do even more complicated tasks."

Software robots in business operations

Software robotics offers tremendous opportunities and many organizations have already benefited from it. But successful implementation and use require continuous processes. The business environment, processes, and requirements are not static, but rather constantly changing. It is indispensable to have the continuous monitoring and analysis of the results achieved by software robotics. By doing this and making the necessary changes, the software robots will be able to fulfil their promises and work for the best interest of the team.

"When the team members heard about the software robots for the first time, they were excited about getting rid of some time-consuming manual tasks. The team members hoped to get more time for complex tasks, which would increase their knowledge and competence, thus giving them the opportunity improve their professional skills and become experts in their field. Their enthusiasm waned when the expected degree of automation wasn’t achieved right away. However, we have only taken the first steps in utilizing software robotics. We know our processes and policies need further development so that unnecessary manual checks and monitoring can be eliminated. But the same thing happens with every new team member. It takes a while before the junior member becomes an expert. "

The italicized texts are direct quotes from Tieto employees who are team leaders or work in teams with software robots as colleagues. 

Read more about how Tieto can help your organisation make the most of  cognitive technologies. 

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