To make the most of robots, firms should consider them as part of their virtual workforce.
When it comes to robots, sci-fi has a lot to answer for. Love them or hate them, they create a vision of a future world that divides opinion. From golden humanoids and vicious bipods with guns for eyes, to cute little helpers, robots appeal to some and frighten others.
In reality, they are already part of our everyday lives. In financial services, robots are beginning to appear as part of business-change plans.
Many firms are looking to robotics for help with the ‘heavy lifting’ of maintaining complex operating models and satisfying the ever-increasing demands of regulators and customers. Unfortunately, robotics in banking are not physical beings that can be wound up and sent to complete a task.
Robots should be considered as virtual workers - they need to be onboarded, inducted, trained and managed like any other new member of staff. Once this happens, they will work tirelessly until asked to stop or trained to do something else. However, to get the best from these virtual workers, firms will need to ‘own’, maintain and fix them when required.
Creating robots in financial services is becoming increasingly straightforward, as there is a multitude of quality, user-friendly robotic tools available. Even without relying on significant IT knowledge, they can convert business rules into working automations.
However, technology is only a part of it. To ensure a robot is integrated into the organization from day one, the following points should not be overlooked:
Communication/engagement: Does the workforce see the robot as a welcome addition or a threat to their jobs?
Existing staff, and in particular, process SMEs are critical to the successful introduction of robots into a workplace, so they must be comfortable with them. This applies equally to all employee levels, from practitioners to risk and budget owners. Awareness, engagement and a robot adoption plan are crucial.
Value: Are there enough processes for robots to take over, to justify the effort?
Robots are not free. They have an introduction cost, take time to build into production and incur cost and effort to maintain. It may be simpler to streamline low-value and repetitive tasks as part of non-tech process improvement. It is important that firms have a clear list of candidate processes that are critical to the future operating model, and schedule their automations based on the organization’s risk appetite. Consider smaller, less complex processes first, so the business can adapt to the approach for automation.
Technology: What RPA tools would suit the business’ needs best?
It is important to consider the infrastructure that the firm will need to establish to support the new robot(s). Economy of scale and the ability to share components across a common platform are key criteria on the technology side.
Organizational structure: Who will own the robots?
Robots will not remain part of a project for ever. Firms must decide who will take accountability for them, once they become part of BAU. A clear and efficient service management layer is also important to:
- Monitor and control robot activity
- Run and maintain the robot to keep it ‘healthy’
- Fix any problems and invoke business continuity plans if needed.
Workplace robots should be considered as more than a tactical fix for isolated process steps. Once a firm has practiced end-to-end robotic automation, robots can be added to the business improvement teams’ toolkits for operating-model optimization.
The technology is continually developing too. Businesses should keep an eye on the latest robotics advances, particularly in cognitive technology. Working collaboratively with the latest tech providers will open further strategic opportunities for business transformation.
Ultimately, robots will have a vital part to play in the future of financial services, but they will not do it on their own. They are enablers, not problem solvers and present a great opportunity for organizations to improve their business. Close examination of the broader change activity - and not just the technology - will set them up for success.