Robotic process automation: The new IT job killer?

Robotic process automation has higher-value IT tasks in its cross-hairs but could be the best antidote to outsourcing yet

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Robotic process automation in practice

A.J. Hanna, senior director of operations support, Ascension Health

“Our goal with RPA is to be able to take on additional work without the need to add staff.”

-- A.J. Hanna, senior director of operations support, Ascension Health

Health care provider Ascension Health deployed an RPA system from Blue Prism in early 2014 when it needed a way to avoid time-consuming manual processes associated with its move to a new ERP platform.

“There is work that we refer to as ‘swivel chair’ activities, where we transfer data from one source into the ERP or one of the support systems,” says A.J. Hanna, senior director of operations support at Ascension. “Despite the implementation of the standard ERP, there is still a large volume of local policy variability that has to be addressed.”

The use of RPA didn’t result in the elimination of jobs at the company, but the possibility “certainly exists” in the future, Hanna says. “The impact to frontline processing staff is the greatest potential change to our workforce,” he says. “A large part of our focus is trying to find ways to be able to absorb the additional workload that we know is coming” without having to add staff.

As the company moves more into the automation of rules-based activities, “We anticipate that it will provide staffing reduction opportunities,” Hanna says. “Each of these opportunities will have to be viewed within the context of the known increase in workload volumes that will be coming in 2015 to determine potential impacts to staffing levels.”

Danny Wootton, innovation director, CGI

“It hasn't necessarily been about cost reduction, but more about better service and improving the effectiveness of our people.”

-- Danny Wootton, innovation director, CGI

While Ascension anticipates the potential for staffing reductions, “our goal with RPA is to be able to take on additional work without the need to add staff,” Hanna says. “Any reductions that may come from the use of RPA would be handled through normal attrition.”

Another company, IT services provider CGI, less than a year ago began working with three RPA providers -- Thoughtonomy, Celaton, and Innovise -- for various aspects of process automation. The two main drivers for the project were to achieve increased efficiency across IT and business processes, as well as customer service improvements, says Danny Wootton, innovation director at CGI.

“It hasn't necessarily been about cost reduction, but more about better service and improving the effectiveness of our people,” Wootton says.

CGI has seen reduced efforts across a range of activities, from simple password resets to more complex logic-based activities such as payroll and help-desk problem resolution. Like Ascension Health, the firm at this stage hasn’t seen RPA affect the makeup of the IT workforce. “But it may well be something we need to think about in the future,” Wootton says.

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