Cognitive Automation — Going beyond Rule-based RPA

People And Robots Modern Human And Artificial Intelligence Futuristic Mechanism Technology Vector Illustration
In recent times, organizations across the world from various industry sectors are pushing themselves to become “Digitally Native” by adopting “Digital Transformation” as a foundational pillar for the future starting with Robotic Process Automation (RPA). And, the primary objectives for the most of them are to achieve speed, accuracy, and reduction in headcounts. The convergence of RPAartificial intelligence (AI)machine learning (ML)natural language processing (NLP), and cognitive platforms is potentially so disruptive that Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, calls it the“Fourth Industrial Revolution.” At the same time, there is a good share of apocalyptic warnings from various quarters that the advancement of automation (cognitive form) in the workplace will create a “dystopian society”. To nullify such warnings, Karen Lachtanski aptly wrote, -“If an argument is to be made against digital transformation, it is that the divide between high-level skills and low-level skills will become wider, with little or no middle ground.” In short, she clearly states that there is no time to dwell on it. What going to set the future workforce apart is what we as a part of that workforce are willing to do about it i.e, learn and evolve (or simply perish).

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

RPA is a basically a software tool that can automate routine tasks/sub-tasks in structured mannered by eliminating human activities such as “copying and pasting data between multiple applications” so that functional/cross-functional teams can focus on more value-adding activities.

In December 2017 survey by Deloitte“53% of the respondents have already embarked on the RPA journey and a further 19% of respondents plan to adopt RPA in the next two years”. If adoption continues at its current level, RPA will achieve near-universal adoption within the next five years. One reason for such prediction is that RPA has become advanced enough to take over the mundane tasks; prior to that, the technology wasn’t quite there.

Let us accept, broader the automation spectrum, more the elimination of manual processes. For organizations to become digitally native it’s very much important that an RPA technology should be designed and deployed as an ideal tool to connect multiple legacy systems rapidly and seamlessly such as Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud, etc. Eventually, it should become a critical part of their value proposition just not for the internal operations but also for the front and back-office functions.

The Addition of “Cognitive Intelligence” to create Cognitive Automation

While RPA is expected to act as a first step in the adoption of automation, the rise of new cognitive technologies (which can mimic human intelligence and judgment) is expected to increasingly drive automation by matching the current wave of “Digital Transformation” with the application of AI. In fact, cognitive technologies can be considered as a subset of AI, further grouped into capabilities such as ML, NLP with semantic analysis, machine vision, speech recognition, emotion recognition with sentiment analysis, and optical character recognition.

On August 15, 2018, Deloitte and NICE launched a white paper – “The Future of Operations — Moving Beyond Process Automation” which meticulously covered a  futuristic self-service banking scenario that utilizes a myriad of new generation cognitive tools to stay ahead. The paper duly explained the concept called Robotic and Cognitive Automation (R&CA) with a holistic and rich perspective on “how to practically assess and tackle the next technological revolution in artificial intelligence and cognitive automation”. Unlike the RPA, given their probabilistic nature, cognitive technologies need to continuously learn from their past actions and evolve more accurate algorithms.

One of the biggest constraints of RPA is that it needs structured data in the form of a spreadsheet, a web form or a database for the robots to work flawlessly. Hence the need for cognitive intelligence (driven by ML/NLP) arises to deal with the unstructured, or semi-structured data and transform it into a structured form, which can then be later processed by the robots.

WorkFusion’s Smart Process Automation (SPA) is one of the classic examples, which is, in turn, paired with RPA to learn from the humans it supports. Using ML-driven data capturing tools, inbuilt quality control, and algorithmic training capabilities, bots shadow human actions and judgment calls to learn routine decision-making processes.

Kindly do note, many advertised AI-powered RPA solutions often turn out to be a basic extension towards ML (Not purely driven by ML as such). Basically, such extensions are quite useful, but they are based on recognition patterns, i.e., having a rule-based dependency. Before selecting any such solution, a due diligence is recommended.

No matter how lucrative cognitive automation seems to be, the first-mover‘s pursuit in this space may invite risk. The best possible strategy is to test run a set of pilot programs and then evaluate for a smoother downstream implementation. A set of proven pilot results can easily help an organization to formulate a long-term strategy.

The Road Ahead

In a newly published working paper by Lukas Schlogl and Andy Sumner from the think tank, the Center for Global Development (CGD) explained the potential effects of robotics and AI on global labor markets. When automation is used to augment human management, traditional organizational orthodoxies, such as about spans of control, can be challenged. The paper says it’s impossible to know exactly how many jobs will be destroyed or disrupted by new technology. But, authors add, “it’s fairly certain there are going to be significant effects — especially in developing economies, where the labor market is skewed toward work that requires the sort of routine, manual labor that’s so susceptible to automation”.

As in the past, technology will not be a purely destructive force like the introduction of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) pushed down the branch-wise headcounts but at the same time banks got an opportunity to open more branches at the distant corners. In this particular case, new jobs will be created; existing roles will be redefined, and workers will have the opportunity to switch careers. But, the challenge to this generation will be in managing the transition as the individuals who need to retrain for new careers won’t be the young, but middle-aged professionals.

And from the government’s end, policy-makers should embrace the opportunity for their economies to benefit from the implementation of cognitive automation and boosting productivity across. To achieve that, they should put in place well-defined policies (flexible, not rigid) to encourage investment and offer market incentives to encourage continued progress and innovation. At the same time, they must evolve and innovate policies (keeping pace with time and evolving technologies) that help current and future workforces adapt to the impact on their respective employment demographics. The dawn of “automation age” has already arrived and it needs an extensive level of social re-engineering which must include revamping the education and training systems, creating substantial income support and pre-defined safety nets, as well as a necessary transitional support for those dislocated or about to be dislocated.

About the Author:

Rahul Guhathakurta (ORCID: 0000-0002-6400-6423)

Cite this Article:

Guhathakurta, R., “Cognitive Automation — Going beyond Rule-based RPA” IndraStra Global, Vol. 04, Issue No: 9 (2018), 0006, | ISSN 2381-3652

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Why it’s important for HR to get out in front of workplace disruption

By Linda Ronnie, University of Cape Town

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Some experts believe that more than a third of jobs in South Africa are at risk of being lost because humans are going to be replaced by digitisation and computer technology. This equates to the loss of about 5.7 million jobs. A World Economic Forum report meanwhile predicts that by 2020, more than a third of today’s skills will have fallen by the wayside.

This has significant implications for Human Resource (HR) professionals. How do they manage a workforce that is potentially outdated every two years or so?

Along with everyone in the world of work, HR professionals are going to have to adapt to get ahead of these challenges. They must find ways to work with uncertainty to ensure that their tech-savvy organisations harness the best talent to succeed in the long term.

They must see the opportunities. Technology is already making administrative tasks easier; from managing payrolls and employee details to keeping track of contracts. HR practitioners can harness these advances to innovate what they do from recruitment through to assessment and reward, creating a more compelling and fulfilling employee experience.

Some companies are already showing how this can be done.

Making things easier

There is no doubt that future workplaces are going to look different and that they’ll be run differently too. More and more companies are hiring freelancers and remote work among full-time employees are also becoming the new normal.

This trend is likely to increase, bringing with it more consequences for HR departments, like how to measure performance, structure packages and offer incentives.

Monitoring teams and keeping up to date with projects can be done via a number of platforms and more electronic solutions will become available over time. Already, companies are making use of cloud-based solutions, voice technology and machine learning to manage their people. According to the Human Resource Technologist publication, more efficient and streamlined data processes like these will soon make gathering employee data more efficient. Tasks will be speeded up, like identifying suitable job candidates based on key characteristics, educational qualifications and professional work history.

Global consumer goods giant, Unilever, is already taking advantage of this. It’s launched a pioneering digital recruitment process that’s shortened its hiring cycle from four months to just two weeks. This saves 50,000 hours of candidate time while reducing recruiter screening time by a massive 75%. More than that, the process is fun and rewarding for candidates and they get better feedback about their participation regardless of whether they are successful or not.

New ways of rewarding and incentivising

The new approaches are appealing especially to Millennials and the Generation Zs – young people who are tech savvy and used to interacting on multiple platforms, and who will dominate work spaces of the future.

Research shows that Millennials are keen too on experiential rewards as opposed to financial incentives. This means they place a high premium on things like travel opportunities, discounted tickets and vouchers to sports or music events rather than on pension benefits and more traditional incentives.

Millennials are also quicker than previous generations to leave jobs where they are not happy and expect regular affirmation in the workplace.
Companies can respond by putting into place automated feedback systems to provide continuous assessment rather than a lumbering annual performance appraisal. Start-ups like Lattice, TinyPulse, and Zugata have taken this concept to the extreme with short weekly reviews that are fun for employees to complete.

Other organisations have launched collaborative initiatives that help to motivate and engage millennials. Accenture Digital, for example, offers junior staff secondments and opportunities to work on virtual extra mural projects, giving them an opportunity to learn more skills and work with others in a virtual space.

New ways of learning

According to the Accenture Strategy report: Harnessing Revolution: Creating the future workforce, employees are hungry for these kind of opportunities and are positive about the change technology is bringing to their jobs with 87% thinking it will improve matters at work. A telling 85% said they were willing to learn new skills at work.

In line with these shifts, executive education is shifting too. While in the past it was dominated by business acumen and financial expertise there is now a growing focus on leadership, relationship building, self-awareness, empathy and communication skills.

How courses are delivered is also shifting with face-to-face and full-time learning being augmented with online courses, flexible timetables and adjustable structures offering HR departments more avenues than ever before to train and develop their employees.

In addition to new ways of formal learning, HR has access to a range of innovative software and electronic tools to enable informal learning in the workplace. New technology and apps, like for instance MyGrow, can help to develop emotional intelligence in the workplace at scale while also assisting with managing employees, keeping track of their time at work and on projects.

Far from being a threat, the future is bright and filled with opportunity for those HR professionals who are able to shift gears quickly and think afresh about how they add value. In many respects, as the profession that looks after all others in the workplace, they have an obligation to make sure that the changes ahead are, on balance, good for their people.The Conversation

About the Author:

Linda Ronnie, Associate Professor: Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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