Chatbots & RPA - Business Automation in the AI-Powered Future
Chatbots & RPA - Business Automation in the AI-Powered Future
Robot process automation continues to drive the business agenda when it comes to companies seeking efficiencies and time savings. But, as with many technologies, RPA is increasingly accessible to all sizes of business, spreading the opportunity and reward. Along with RPA, its newer AI buddy the chatbot is helping all types of organizations across every market automate services to build a more efficient organisation.
What is RPA?
In the drive for faster, smarter and more efficient business, just about every industry is turning to robots. Not just the whirring machines that take charge of heavy components in modern factories or the hyper-accurate, super-fast arms that build advanced gadgets out of many different parts.
Robots also come in the guise of software tools, RPA helps automate repetitive office and data-related tasks, and save huge amounts of time for workers. An RPA robot can mimic how a person performs a computer-based task, or be instructed what data needs to be moved where. It can perform that task over and over again, from accounts receivables to spreadsheet updating, database management to invoicing. Using one application or working across a set of them, with different RPAs at each step, they can speed up or reduce the number of steps that require human interaction, allowing workers to focus on more valuable efforts.
RPA can be used to copy data from one paper form or digital document to another, scanning or scraping information into digital resources. An RPA can perform invoice processing or payroll, comparing prices across a large number of websites and many other tasks that require lots of worker effort. to a spreadsheet or database. Other functions can include setting up systems for new users, cleansing data of identifying information and many other tasks, with new uses found on a regular basis.
The primary benefits are to reduce costs and optimise processes for efficiency gains, done by machines in seconds instead of minutes, running all day, every day if needed and never requiring a break or holiday. Many companies highlighting a quick return on investment after the RPA is acquired, installed and trained. Beyond the business benefit, RPA also helps return time to workers, letting them focus on tasks that provide more business and personal value to boost that work/life balance.
In practical terms, RPA solutions sit on top of your existing IT and processes, allowing for rapid integration and making it a good source of quick wins for companies seeking efficiencies.
With many successful examples, RPA continues to play a growing role in increasing numbers of businesses, with growth in RPA market revenues worldwide from 2016 to 2022 (in million U.S. dollars) set to grow from $1.5 billion in 2019 to over $3 billion in 2022, according to Statista data.
Chatbots and RPA
Until recently, chatbots have been a discrete part of the rise of AI in digital business. But, as with many advances in technology, vendors love to bundle and package. And we now see chatbots and RPA tools operating in tandem, as more companies seek to maximise their investment and move beyond plain traditional RPA to a blend of services delivering greater value.
Chatbots started out as script-based tools mimicking your reception phone system, customer support or sales messaging, guiding customers to a successful outcome without the need to take up valuable office time, or saving human agents for important or more personal requests where person-to-person contact is appreciated.
When you combine RPA and chatbots, businesses can benefit from intelligent RPA that allows greater scope for interaction with customers or workers with the robotic process. From virtual customer assistants to RPA in customer service, the options are many and growing fast.
What are the benefits? Each use case and business results will be different, even for similar RPAs, but browsing end user reports and vendor statistics, some impressive figures emerge:
- “Fuel bill processing time reduced by 86%.”
- RPA can save finance departments 25,000 hours of avoidable work.
- “Our manual system had a 20% error rate, with RPA we are at 0% errors.”
- Deloitte’s latest RPA report shows “The benefits of RPA adoption are significant. Payback was reported at less than 12 months, with an average 20% of full-time equivalent (FTE) capacity provided by robots.”
- A major insurance company’s call center cut its average handling time (PDF) by 70%
Chatbots, RPA, and AI
Recent bots are powered by AI-engines, giving them the skills to learn as people ask new questions through natural language processing. They can also refine their answers and based on the human’s tone of message, and suit their own responses to a situation, as well as work multilingually and access wider data sources to find more information through deep learning.
Rapid growth in chatbots, with market estimates showing the chatbot industry hitting $10.08 billion by 2026 sees many businesses meeting in the middle, with some already adopting RPA and moving to chatbots, while others have gone in with chatbots and now see potential value in RPA, or by building services that leverage them together.
Used in harmony, robotic automation delivers intelligence to chatbots by broadening the amount of information they can access, providing specific live training through user or worker input to make the bot function smarter and to relate to wider business tools, apps or services.
Many business leaders may ask, Is RPA considered an AI? Certainly, the early versions were simple, linear processes with no room for intelligence. Yet, modern RPAs, and certainly those linked with chatbots can use AI to improve the process and arrive at various decisions.
Chatbot and RPA Use Cases
RPA helps businesses in many ways, but the key elements are usually focused on driving toward digital transformation. Across any business, this could be improving the customer experience, moving services to the cloud, improving access to data and analytics, identity management or improving delivery times.
Digital transformation is driving finance, tax and banking organisations, with RPA helping streamline their form-based operations, ensuring regulatory compliance and building a process-focused method to link siloed accounts or banking services for joined-up operations. These businesses are highlight focused on eliminating transposition errors, double-checks and ensuring consistency across many different forms, all areas where RPA excels.
Chatbots enter the picture when customer or visitor data enters the equation. Early examples include successful reception bots that make use of a range of internal business tools and the bot to welcome a guest, alert the person they have come to meet, print a badge and arrange suitable accesses for the visitor.
RPA and Chatbots for Help Desk Support
The conversational element offered by chatbots becomes a bigger part of the RPA as companies look to automate processes such as help desk functions. Businesses with HR teams, extensive IT or other support operations and service management teams can all use RPA and bots to create mixed or all-AI environments to deliver greater value.
That’s in the type of environment where “IT departments spend 30% of their time on low-value basic tasks, and 13% of IT specialists find these tasks to be a complete waste of time.” Automation handles the low-value tasks and speeds up response to serious issues.
The chatbot (virtual assistant or voice response system) can handle the customer part of the equation, passing data to the RPA for repetitive tasks, including onboarding, technical support or taking orders. Once proven, intelligent automation can scale greatly to deliver huge benefits to the business.
Working together using rules engines, the bot and RPA can automatically provide appropriate responses, fill out digital paperwork for record-keeping and commit orders or transactions to achieve the desired result. Help desks, in particular, can benefit from faster problem resolution and turnaround time, a more flexible service allows support agents to focus on trickier issues.
As machines talk to machines in a smarter way, these tools enable printers to order their own toner, automatic fleet vehicles to book themselves in for services and so on.
Chatbots vs RPA
As mentioned, many companies have started with an RPA or chatbot, and may have struggled to achieve success with them. Issues may have arisen from the cost of development and delivery outstripping any possible benefit. Failure of the bot or RPA can leave the company struggling to go back to the old way of working. Or, if the business goals or capabilities of the technology were not clearly defined at the start of a project, it would have been doomed to failure.
Learning from these lessons and moving on can see the business better prepared for adopting either or both solutions, and better integrating them into their processes for a second effort.
Chatbots dominate the automation agenda when it comes to front office interaction with internal or external business customers. Chatbots can help people make decisions or provide appropriate options.
RPA allows the business to automate back-office processes, perhaps linking many RPAs to speed up a complex chain of events. Combine the automation power of RPA with the AI of chatbots and they can be used across employee self-service tasks, productivity tasks and help across many departments, building a competitive advantage.
RPA Chatbot Tools
Whatever the business ambition, there needs to be a clear team in charge of RPA and bot efforts. They must have the authority to make decisions, ask questions, however awkward, have clear sight of all figures, and are free to choose the best tool that delivers the right result.
Too many businesses rush to launch an RPA as part of a cost-saving exercise resulting in failure and further expense. There are many tools and suites from a growing number of vendors, neatly encapsulated in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant (subscription required) place competitors in various segments, and are widely discussed in the industry. What these discussions often fail to appreciate is the synergy that comes from leveraging the AI of Natural Language Processing, such as the engine that drives our chatbots. RPA with SnatchBot means automation that comes with intelligence and a conversational interface.
As for the size and value of the market, a clear indication of the success of such solutions, RPA software revenue grew 63.1% in 2018 to $846 million, making it the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, according to Gartner, which expects the figure to reach $1.3 billion in 2019.
Automation Trends for 2020
Whatever the business process, for now, most RPA tools require manual understanding of the task and instructions to tell the bot how to work. In 2020 and beyond we can expect the AI element that powers chatbots to help the business identify processes that are ideal for automation and suggest, direct or even build the appropriate RPA to perform that task.
This move to intelligent RPA will be part of a shift to AI-enabled business where smart thinking will create a range of business or product update options for the leadership to choose from, to improve how the company works, or even suggest new products that could fulfill a previously unseen niche.
With the rise of 5G and the Internet of Things there will also be more in the way of automated big data, with AI winnowing down petabytes of information into understandable dashboards. Again, bots and RPAs will help the business make sense of changes and react in real-time when critical decisions need to made.