Robotics, automation and artificial intelligence: How can your business benefit?

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Research shows that 60% of UK businesses are already using artificial intelligence (AI), or plan to start using it in the next 12 months. While Gartner predicts that 72% of organisations will be working with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) within the next two years. Although adoption rates are on the rise, many businesses will be wondering how these technologies could potentially add value to their company.

AI is the next frontier in technology and can simulate human intelligence through machine processes; it can learn and improve itself overtime. Many experts believe that it has the potential to transform our society for the better with countless applications.

RPA is software that replicates and executes tasks that humans would ordinarily do. On its own, RPA will never be able to teach itself to get better and will remain at whatever level it’s been programmed at unless it is integrated with AI.

 

Artificial Intelligence: The next frontier

AI is defined as the simulation of human intelligence in machines or computers – this includes learning, reasoning and self-correction. AI didn’t take off immediately because of the lack of computational power and memory available to scientists at the time. It wasn’t until the late 20th century, a renewed focus on AI brought some of the innovations we now know today. There are four types of AI that you need to be aware of:

  • Reactive machines – these machines can only react to what’s in front of them, it has no memory and can’t use past experiences to advise future ones. They are designed for extremely narrow purposes and can’t be implemented easily elsewhere.

  • Limited memory – this form of AI uses previous experiences to inform future decisions. For instance, driverless cars are designed to observe other vehicles and how they move to make decisions. They can be coupled with programming like reactive machines, whereby cars will always brake if a person runs out in front of them.

  • Theory of mind – this system understands emotions and will be able to differentiate between feelings and respond accordingly.

  • Self-awareness – the most developed form of AI can demonstrate self-awareness, thought and have their own consciousness. They understand their own current state and use the information to infer how other people or machines are feeling.

 

How can AI help your business?

AI can bring many advantages to businesses as self-learning machines will enable employees to spend less time on laborious tasks and freeing up their time to focus on activities that require human input. Here are the benefits your business can expect:

  • Eliminate redundant tasks – data entry, data analysis and other admin tasks can be automated using AI technology. This will free up precious time and resources for employees to focus on more valuable and creative projects.

  • Accelerated decision-making – AI is capable of analysing reams of data from different sources to make fast and effective decisions. This can help employees make important choices without having to spend too much brain power analysing data.

  • Eliminate errors – as computers never get tired or distracted, AI is consistent in its approach. It doesn’t make mistakes because they are not part of its programming (assuming it’s been programmed correctly).

  • Reduces human risks – one of the most important capabilities of AI is that it empowers machines to take risks on behalf of humans. For example, accidents can be eliminated from production lines, as machines will carry out the complex tasks usually assigned to humans.

 

RPA: The power of automation

While RPA may not have the learning capabilities associated with AI, it can bring huge benefits to businesses including increased efficiency and better employee satisfaction levels. If used in conjunction with AI, it can analyse a process being undertaken by your organisation and opt to augment or skip certain steps to improve productivity. The benefits of using RPA include:

  • Increased throughput – RPA works all day, every single day, ensuring that productivity is prioritised. This means employees will get more work done as they can concentrate on other valuable tasks.

  • Highly efficient – As long as machines have electricity, they will never stop working and tasks will be accurate 100% of the time. This will reduce the threshold for costly mistakes.

  • Cost-effective – Initially, the outlay for technology may be pricey, however in the long term it will save businesses money. For instance, it can handle more labour-intensive tasks than hundreds of employees.

  • Speed – RPA can process tasks twenty to thirty times faster than any human and is accurate each and every time.

 

How is RPA being used?

RPA is already being used to support many business functions. For example, in procurement, automation can be applied to a range of processes including contract management, supplier onboarding and category management. These all use bots to take care of the repetitive and time-consuming data entry tasks, freeing up time for employees to concentrate on other responsibilities. Some other applications where RPA can make a huge difference include:

  • Call centre tasks – RPA can support human-based operators with detailed statistics and notes, consolidated across myriad systems. It can also help staff with other tasks such as raising invoices quickly and easily. The time saved will allow operators to concentrate on excellent customer service.

  • Credit card applications – most credit applications are now handled by RPA, carrying out checks to determine if a candidate is eligible for funds. It can also be programmed to handle the end-to-end process.

  • Scheduling systems – shipping systems can benefit through automated scheduling, by extracting shipment requests from incoming emails, issuing jobs, and offering pick-up times in customer and carrier portals.

  • CRM updates – entering prospect and lead data into your CRM can be time-consuming. RPA can help automate the data entry process allowing the sales and marketing team to concentrate on what they’re best at.

  • Payroll processing – RPA can help link finance-related systems such as time-tracking, HR, accounts payable and general ledger. This can save on navigation time for personnel, allowing them to concentrate on other critical tasks.

  • Order processing –address verification, entering customer details, printing invoices, shipping labels, and inventory management and reordering can all be automated.

 

There are many differences between AI (the thinker) and RPA (the doer), but both offer many advantages for businesses. Whether this be saving time, simplifying tasks or enabling employees to focus on other valuable projects, it’s clear that these technologies will be increasingly adopted over the next few years.