RPA’s Impact on the Economy
“By reducing the amount of manpower needed for routine tasks, banks will be able to provide a higher level of service with the same, or lower number of employees. This will reduce the cost of finance, allowing them to lend to more SMEs and start-ups, further boosting the economy…Humans are not designed to do boring work, we tend to make errors, become disillusioned and ultimately leave. This is the same for a factory worker who makes the same product day in, day out, as it is for the finance graduate who, after spending thousands in university fees ends up spending the first few years of his/her career processing loans and copy-pasting data.” Says R. Subramaniam, President and CEO of UIPath (APAC).
Care to innovate? Automate the Boring Stuff
Listening to CY Leung’s 2017 Policy Address in January, I was pleased to learn of the Hong Kong government’s proposed HK$18 billion investment in innovation and technology, which will help to subsidize industry adoption of technology to upgrade and transform, among other things. This is timely, as like many developed nations, Hong Kong needs to look to additional means to drive growth, and technology-assisted productivity is an obvious place to start.
Skill shortages are one reason for the recent drop in productivity numbers and are already costing Hong Kong. According to a recent survey by Robert Half, three in four Chief Financial Officers are experiencing talent shortages, to such an extent that it is affecting their productivity and revenue, and many are experiencing significant competition from abroad.
So, an embrace of technology is a smart way to both address skill shortages and become more productive, but the question then becomes, which technology, and how can it be implemented in a way that improves overall productivity? This is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) comes in, a technology that is perfectly suited to Hong Kong. RPA essentially automates all of the repetitive, rules-based tasks that occur in pretty much any industry. So, in finance, one of Hong Kong’s leading industries, armies of workers will be employed to process loans, move data around, and literally copy and paste data in many cases.
Industries from retail to hospitality require the presence of accounts departments, and junior accountants whose task it is to process invoices, again monotonous, repetitive, tasks that can easily be automated.
RPA is software (not a physical robot, although the software is commonly referred to as a “robot”) that mimics a human and can be placed on top of existing IT systems, removing the need to change underlying code and so reducing cost and easing implementation. Results are often immediate, without the need to sleep, eat or take smoke breaks, the robots can work 24/7 and growing Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability is enabling them to become even quicker and more efficient.
Importantly, by automating the monotonous, “boring” tasks, employees will be able to do higher value work. For example, accountants will no longer start off their careers as mere bean counters, rather, they will immediately be able to start learning the skills of a consultant, allowing them to provide a more rounded service for their clients now that much of the data crunching has been automated. By reducing the amount of manpower needed for routine tasks, banks will be able to provide a higher level of service with the same, or lower number of employees. Again, this will reduce the cost of finance, allowing them to lend to more SMEs and start-ups, further boosting the economy.
Time for Hong Kongers to embrace a technology that suits them best, one that will allow them to become more innovative, creative and productive.