ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK: Bots make humans better at being human

01 September 2019 - 00:11 By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Every time the fourth industrial revolution comes up in public debate, the emphasis shifts quickly from the opportunities to fears of a future in which robots replace humans. It's not altogether unfounded: hardware robots and the automation of production lines make many human roles redundant, and software bots and streamlined processes are reducing dependence on humans in contact centres.However, the emphasis on such job losses masks what is really at work: a remarkable increase in human efficiency. Where robots - hardware or software - take over mundane and repetitive tasks, they allow humans to focus on roles that add far greater value. And then, when these bots are roped in to augment human activity, they multiply human value.That is the holy grail of software robots, better known in the industry as robotic process automation (RPA), and among consumers as hots. Almost unheard of a few years ago, RPA is now enhancing the efficiency of organisations of all sizes. A company called UiPath has been the world's fastest-growing software start-up of the past three years thanks to simplifying RPA and making it relevant for both automation and augmentation.Lenore Kerrigan, South African country head of UiPath, says the difference lies in the two kinds of bots made possible by RPA: attended and unattended bots."An unattended bot runs a process in the background when something triggers that process," she says. "It can be triggered by time, a transaction, or handover from another bot. It can be hooked into business processes or enterprise resource planning systems or website responses. It completes the process, then sits idle and waits until something else triggers it."The attended bot is about bringing the human into the loop, and it becomes a productivity tool. For example, today we all use spreadsheets in business but, in time, we will use a work bot and a home bot, doing repetitive tasks. UiPath has a vision of one bot per person."Kerrigan says international firms are including bot collaboration in key performance indicators. "They require a certain percentage of your activity to go through your bot. Your mundane, repetitive tasks should be done through your bot, while you focus on more complex tasks."Bots don't always neatly fit a category: attended and unattended bots sometimes work in tandem, as in call centres when unattended bots hand over to humans who then deal with a particular process with the aid of an attended bot."One insurance company has used an RPA bot, working with humans and an artificial intelligence engine, to drop average call time on a specific type of problem from six minutes to two minutes. The back-end response used to take 24 hours to resolve the problem; now problem resolution at the end of the call is instantaneous."Little wonder RPA is taking off in SA. Research by World Wide Worx in partnership with Syspro reveals that use of robotics in South African corporations has increased from 6% in 2018 to 37% in 2019 - primarily thanks to RPA. And the bot invasion has only just begun. Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.