Everyone to own a digital assistant in future

Read time 3min 20sec
Lenore Kerrigan, head of sales at UiPath.
Lenore Kerrigan, head of sales at UiPath.

The current proliferation rate ofdigital personal assistants means that in future, every human being will utilise the services of a robot in various aspects of their lives.

This was the word from Lenore Kerrigan, head of sales at enterprise robotic process automation (RPA) firm UiPath, speaking yesterday at a media round table in Johannesburg.

Discussing the adoption rate of automation and RPA locally, Kerrigan explained that the South African market is ripe for RPA, with the technology expected to inevitably take over customer-focused processes in cross-sector organisations and also be used by consumers in their personal lives.

"With automation driving the fourth industrial revolution, we envision one robot for every person, if not more, in future. I have never seen a technology gain momentum at such a fast pace.

"RPA is a wave of change much like the ones we saw when personal computers and mobile phones first arrived. The difference is that this is taking off much faster. RPA is not like having R2D2 [the Star Wars robotic character] coming in and taking over your job. It gives you a digital assistant that takes over your mundane, process-based work, and does it better and faster, leaving humans free to focus on creative problem-solving and innovation."

Kerrigan predicted that every human being will utilise the services of a digital personal assistant either in their workplace, personal life, or both.

"The reality is that robots are here and the adaption rate is happening far quicker than expected. In just a few years' time we will be living in a very different world to the one we have today, and if a person is not using a digital assistant on their PC they will be using it on their mobile phone to perform a task."

While RPA promises to free up human capital to become creative problem-solvers, Kerrigan highlighted the importance of upskilling and repurposing of employees to enable them to fill other roles, instead of being made redundant.

"The advent of innovations like electricity and cars many years ago also impacted jobs in those sectors. But at the same time, they created opportunities for scores of new jobs.

"There is no stopping progress. But what we are seeing in our deployments with global customers and in SA is a lot of repurposing of roles and upskilling of workers to use RPA to improve their daily work. It is our responsibility as leaders, industry and even parents to show people how to take advantage of the whole new world of opportunity that is arriving."

Accelerated adoption

Mark Walker, associate VP of Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC, noted that global RPA spend (already in the region of $3.7 billion) will grow at around 50% year-on-year to 2022.

"When we conduct surveys with local organisations, they tell us RPA is among their top three digital transformation priorities, because of its cost savings, rapid implementation and fast return on investment," noted Walker.

"The technology is applicable to all sectors: any organisation that has a process can benefit from RPA. However, in SA we're seeing a lot of uptake in the call centre environment, the financial services sector, logistics and warehousing, and in some aspects of manufacturing.

"Based on what we are seeing in Singapore and Asia Pacific countries, banks which implement RPA are seeing up to 50% improvements in their process turnaround times, within the first year of implementation and significant return on investment. In SA there is no reason why we cannot achieve the same."

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