A Robot for Every Person: RPA, AI, and the Future of Automation

CXO THOUGHTS
Guy_Kirkwood_headshot A Robot for Every Person: RPA, AI, and the Future of Automation
Guy Kirkwood, Chief Evangelist, UiPath

Forty-five years ago, Bill Gates and Paul Allen set a goal that seemed impossible: a computer on every desk and in every home. Today, a reality that once seemed impossible is the norm in developed countries. Tomorrow, the new normal may be a robot for every person.

The future is not as far away as we sometimes think. Organizations in all sectors are reaping the benefits of Robotic Processing Automation (RPA) technology. Now they want to maximize those benefits. For some organizations, that means literally giving a robot to every employee.

What does “a robot for every person” mean?

The phrase “a robot for every person” may conjure images of your favorite Star Wars droid, but what we’re talking about here are personalized automated software. These are tailored to allow workers at all levels and in all industries to automate mundane, repetitive tasks and support more complicated tasks.

In his address at UiPath Forward III, David Hunter, strategic product manager at Ericsson, described how Ericsson was working toward their goal of automating all repetitive tasks in their organization by 2021. With a traditional top-down approach, this task would have been impossible for a corporation with nearly 100,000 employees worldwide. Fortunately, Ericsson is anything but traditional. They’re training “citizen developers” to develop a personal robot for every one of their 96,000 employees.

“A citizen developer is somebody who works in business, is regular staff, has a regular job which isn’t development,” Hunter said.  “We train them, we give them a ‘driving license,’ so to speak, for developing automations, and they become [a citizen developer]. And they develop automations for themselves, for their team, for the department, and, if they make automations that are applicable, they can be shared throughout the organization.”

Ericsson isn’t the only multi-billion-dollar company that sees decentralization as the key to unlocking the full benefits of RPA. Global audit and consulting business PwC gave every one of their 55,000 U.S. employees a UiPath Robot to automate whatever they wanted. They saw so much success with the initiative that they’re giving a UiPath Robot to all of their global employees in 2020.

The definition of “impossible” is changing at the speed of technology. The breakneck pace of this change should lead us to ask: What are the consequences? What kind of world are we building for our businesses, our world economy, our children?

Everybody wins when everybody has a robot

Even in 2020, the question continues to be debated: Is automation taking away our jobs? While automation is certainly changing the jobs that humans do, the truth is that RPA benefits not only businesses but also quality of life for workers.

First, we should address the elephant in the room. Obviously, workers’ quality of life can’t improve if they’re out of work. However, World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2018 report estimates that automation will create 60 million net new jobs by 2022! Forrester’s 2019 Future of Work predicts over 300,000 net jobs created in 2020 alone, thanks to automation. The even better news is that not only is automation creating more jobs, but it’s also creating better jobs.

At UiPath, we’ve used our own robots to save over 100,000 hours of those work “chores” that keep you from the work you really enjoy. RPA robots are designed to enhance and support human intelligence and decision making, freeing workers to focus on the work that makes them feel more fulfilled and productive. In an independent study commissioned by UiPath, 66% of decision makers at the manager level and above said RPA restructures existing work, enabling employees to have more human interactions; 60% said that RPA helps employees focus on more meaningful, strategic tasks.

When employees are empowered in this way, everyone reaps the benefits. In fact, RPA is quite literally saving lives: The United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) has used UiPath to reach 3 million more refugees while operating within the same budget constraints. This wonderful example points to a brighter future, where robots and humans work side by side to benefit everybody.

What about AI?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been popularized by science fiction, so when we talk about robots, a lot of people immediately think of AI but may not know what that really means. In its simplest form, artificial intelligence is a collection of tools that do a particular job as well as or better than a human can.

When designing an RPA robot, a developer  has to consider the four ways a robot can “understand” the task it’s meant to complete. The next step is deciding which understanding(s) are needed to create the robot best suited to the task:

  • Visual understanding means the software robot processes everything on a screen in the same way that humans do.
  • Document understanding means the robot can understand what is on a piece of paper and can take action in the same way a human might.
  • Conversational understanding means the robot can understand and process natural language from chatbots or even voice.
  • Process understanding means the robot can decide what should be automated based on both system logs (e.g., what happened) and human actions. UiPath recently acquired process mining companies ProcessGoldand StepShot in order to integrate this level of understanding with our existing RPA and AI features.

Within each of these four understandings, there are a wide variety of AI tools. But if these AI tools are doing their job, they will essentially be an invisible part of the robots that automate your work. This marriage of AI and RPA technologies is building a world where humans are free to be more human, while robots take care of the work that saps our time and energy.

The future of automation is collaborative

Innovators like Ericsson and PwC are giving us a peek at the next step in this evolutionary chain: a world where every employee is faster, smarter, and happier, thanks to their very own software robot. The results are being seen in private and public sectors alike.

The organizations we rely on daily, from banks and energy companies to postal services and city governments, are adopting RPA as a regular part of their operations. While you probably won’t have droids wandering city hall or delivering your mail anytime soon, these software robots are reducing human error, increasing public servants’ capacity for smart decision-making, and making bureaucracy work more efficiently.

Imagine a world where there’s no line to renew your driver license and postal packages are never lost. Imagine a world where you come home from your job feeling productive and fulfilled. This is the future we’re building with RPA robots.