Robotics Process Automation: Balancing Man and Machine

Author: NICSA

Attendees of NICSA’s General Membership Meeting examined the role of robotics and cognitive intelligence within the asset management industry during a panel discussion on Thursday, Oct. 5, in Boston.

The conversation picked up where NICSA’s Sept. 20 Midwest Regional Meeting, themed “De-Mystifying Robotics Process Automation,” left off. John Sjosten, Senior Manager at Deloitte, moderated the panel of experts from DST Systems, FIS Global and Putnam.

Patrick Ferguson, Practice Lead, Business Process Solutions at DST Systems, began with his definition of the emerging technology: “It could be as simple as data entry in the case of robotic process automation, where it’s just emulating the actions a person takes, all the way up to artificial intelligence, where you’re actually emulating a human’s thought process.” Automation, he said, is a “pretty broad term with a number of things that rest inside of it.”

Ferguson agreed with Sjosten’s assertion that the topic carries a certain “Hollywood” aspect, evoking movies like The Terminator. “They’ve taken an old technology and refreshed the marketing around it,” Ferguson said. “The hype is ahead of where the technology is.”

Beyond the hype, however, RPA can offer clear benefits. For Sjosten, RPA’s value lies in its consistency. “The robot will do what you teach it to do, creating a better customer experience, because you receive the same response or resolution time and time again,” he said.

Jason Guenther, Head of Distribution, Marketing and Operations Technology at Putnam Investments, said RPA is critical for businesses and their clients. “Any time you can get more consistent output, then you’re getting better client experiences and having better engagement,” he said. “That’s really what we’re about: trying to create better future outcomes. If I can have a great experience with every one of my shareholders, my clients, my whole ecosystem, and I’m not worried about the execution of the task—I’m worried about what’s going on with my client—then that’s a better outcome and that’s really what we’re in the business for.”

Randy Guy, Chief Technology Officer at FIS Global, said the key to RPA is “managing it holistically as a company,” adding that FIS Global uses the technology to benefit clients and enhance internal operations.

From a development perspective, “the best process to automate is the process you can eliminate altogether,” Guenther said. “As you’re going at it from both sides—business and technology—make sure you are starting with the end in mind. Have the end-to-end conversation and then the development teams can figure out the right technical approach.”

Guy said that when it comes to mapping potential use cases, firms should really consider the costs, benefits and complexity of the process through a systematic approach. “A lot of people find a good amount of savings just in evaluating the process,” he said.

Ferguson agreed: “Are you doing the process a lot? Is it the same every time? If not, you should think about what you’re doing and why.”

“The volume of the activity you automate is really important, especially when you start thinking about ROI,” Guy said. “You could end up just having technology that’s allowing your people to be less efficient.”

RPA will alter the workforce. “A lot of the tasks that don’t take any … decision making will go to ‘virtual workers,’” Ferguson said. He warned, though, that even virtual workers must be managed—by humans—to some extent. “They do take maintenance, and you have to watch them, monitor them and make sure they’re executing.”

Human workers should not fear that they will be completely displaced. “We’ll be working more with robots, and they are going to take away those easy-to-perform, repetitive tasks,” Guenther said. “We’ve found that people who are on board with robotics have enjoyed it. They’ve found their job satisfaction has gone up and they’ve been able to do more than before.”


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