Chatbots are big news, but robots are set to be bigger

Robotic assistants that make your life infinitely easier are coming soon to a workstation near you.
Read time 3min 30sec

Chatbots ‒ or virtual agents ‒ are big news around the world as enterprises embrace the convenience of artificial intelligence (AI)-based assistants. In fact, the global chatbot market is expected to reach $10.08 billion by 2026, expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 31%, according to Reports and Data research.

But a broader – albeit less publicly visible – revolution is under way in the AI-enabled assistant space.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is making its presence known across all departments and all industries, promising to become the technology with the fastest uptake in the history of ICT.

Currently, the global RPA market is the fastest-growing enterprise software segment and is expected to grow from around $1.5 billion this year to $3 billion by 2022. But based on market response and the almost unlimited applications for RPA, I expect RPA adoption to accelerate massively and exceed expectations.

Robotic process automation is an application technology leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities for handling high volume, repeatable tasks. RPA represents the convergence of multiple technologies within a consumer-friendly user interface. Advances in ML and AI have enabled RPA to leap forward from its first emergence 20 years ago.

Digital workers are the ideal employees business has been waiting for.

Today, RPA is a compelling proposition in that it allows businesses to create their own software robots to automate business processes, quickly giving the business an efficient digital workforce that dramatically reduces operating costs by executing high-volume repetitive tasks with zero error rates.

These bots, or digital workers, are configurable, they can learn, and they can be cloned. Importantly, they can also be deployed on top of existing systems in a matter of days or weeks, so businesses need not change underlying business systems or applications in order to automate.

ROI is immediate, quantifiable and – I believe – unmatched. Bots dramatically reduce errors, improve compliance and speed-up processes, while also freeing resources to focus on process improvements and value-added work.

Digital workers are the ideal employees business has been waiting for. They are typically two to three times faster than humans, they don’t make mistakes, and they work around the clock.

Unlike humans, they can be quickly and easily scaled up and down to cope with seasonal fluctuations. Depending on the process or task at hand, one bot might even be deployed across multiple tasks in a number of departments.

But they don’t replace humans – in fact, they make life better for humans. They can be deployed in high risk environments to reduce health and safety risks to humans; and they free humans from time-consuming, mundane tasks that could take up 20% – 70% of the average human workday.

Some of Automation Anywhere’s international clients have allocated a bot per person, with measurable improvements in productivity, efficiency and staff morale. I’ve also heard of trials abroad whereby human-bot teams are so efficient that humans have been able to reduce their working hours to four days per week and still deliver 30% more productivity to the enterprise.

In South Africa, RPA is fast moving into markets with many rules-based procedures, and where standardised, structured digitised data is in use. But enterprises across the board are keen to discover what else RPA can do for them, and demand is soaring in sectors such as finance, retail, legal and contact centres.

Within KID Group, we are moving to deploy RPA to slash time spent on repetitive tasks and elevate our employees to tasks that add real value to the company. In years to come, more staff will be enjoying a better work-life balance, with digital workers taking care of the mundane tasks around the clock, such as updating timesheets and sales forecasts, or populating onboarding systems.

South African enterprises, aiming to be digital to the core, are looking to RPA not only as a key outcome, but also as a driver of the digital transformation process.

Gavin Els

Head of technical presales at Centerfield Software.

Gavin Els is head of technical presales at Centerfield Software, a member of the KID Group of companies.

He started out in the mechanical and heavy engineering earthmoving industry in 2003, which set the platform and foundations for technical and meticulous attention to the finer details of all aspects of production and process management.

After six years in the industry, he made a career change, specialising in precious metals chemical and gravity extractions, and more specifically gold extraction.

He spent four years all over the African continent, consulting to various mines and bigger mining groups, doing plant design, equipment supply, commissioning/implementation as well as production and process consulting with turnkey plant solutions involving various conglomerates in the gold sector.

In 2011, he was placed in charge of front-end gold operations on a big copper gold mine in the northwest of Zambia. After four years running operations in Zambia, South Africa once again called and he was appointed as technical process consultant at Cubic Blue.

After a year, a move was made to sister company Centerfield Software, where he was appointed as project manager assisting in running the Vodacom ARC Technical Repair Centre.

In 2019, Automation Anywhere and Centerfield Software became BPO partners and he was appointed to head up the technical presales side of the business, which includes client engagements, process workshop and process ROI identification, implementation delivery, technical support and training, as well as after-sales services.

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