There have been predictions that Robots will take over our jobs. As of today, that prediction is rapidly coming to pass. Our imagination may tell us these robots are hardware, machines made of metal or carbon fibre. This is not quite the case, as these Robots are software called bots. Bots are programmed to repetitively automate operational and transactional tasks without the need for human input. This activity is termed Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
World’s leading research and advisory company, Gartner, predicted that the global RPA market will generate a staggering $1.9 billion and that “Despite economic pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the RPA market is still expected to grow at double-digit rates through 2024”.
RPA bots are capable of improving operational efficiency in every sector. Their use is not limited to Public Sector, Banking, Utilities, Human Resources, customer support or even supply chain.
RPA can do data entry and extraction, the transfer and manipulation of data, web scraping (Information mining), email automation, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Form auto-filling and countless other tasks and processes.
What about practical RPA scenarios?
Think about the Nigerian Civil Service having all its documents archived digitally, memos, bank statements, agreements, etc. Imagine that all this information was not stored in their original format but digitally. Take for instance, the case of a financial statement being scanned and saved as a JPG or PDF instead of Excel.
With the aid of RPA technology, their details and key information can be extracted from the scanned document and saved in an Excel sheet. Thus, making the data useful in a way that can be crunched in Power BI or Tableau.
The finance sector has unlimited RPA use cases. One can have information from receipts extracted and reconciled automatically. Know-Your-Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) process can be executed with the aid of Robotic Process Automation. The detection of discrepancies in customer details and transactions for cases of fraud can be done flawlessly and timely. Bots can even run audits to ensure compliance.
We cannot underestimate the high-level benefits of RPA, which include cost reduction, elimination of human error, high output, better accuracy and general efficiency and these are fundamental needs of all organisations the world over.
The RPA market is currently dominated by three Major software companies:
- Automation Anywhere
- Blue Prism
These three are not the only RPA Software companies. But they are the most popular. These companies have partnership programs for IT service providers.
The program empowers partners with resources to deliver value added services to end-users. Partner enablement comes with discounts, commissions, Not-For-Resale (NFR) licenses, marketing and technical resources to sell and implement RPA easily to potential customers. Partner programs are a major source of revenue for local tech companies.
A team with vision and programming skills do not have to sign up as partners. Rather, they can build their own RPA product. After all, RPA can be a simple script written in nearly any development language. The team does not need to build all the capabilities in the first version of the product. A simple bot that extracts, copies and pastes data is a fine start.
An indigenous RPA company has all it takes to attain Product-Market fit in a short while in Nigeria. All the conditions for success are available in-country. Our processes are currently slow and human input leaves a trail of costly mistakes.
Tasks performed by employees in the Public Sector, banks and other businesses are typically repetitive — such as copying and pasting information in various internal applications. These make us quite ripe for the innovation.
Also, consider the fact that Nigeria’s regulatory environment is quite turbulent. The challenge compels Banks and other enterprise customers to always be on the lookout for a solution that will enforce compliance in their internal processes and deliver efficiency at an affordable cost.
RPA vs Artificial Intelligence
The fundamental differences between RPA and Artificial Intelligence include the fact that RPA is not Machine learning. It is not intelligent on its own. It cannot learn the task it has been directed to execute.
In addition, RPA cannot form logic. User input is required to enable it function as desired. Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the other hand can learn from each task that has been assigned. AI can observe patterns and create logic from them.
However, combining RPA with AI gives Intelligent Process Automation (IPA). Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) executes judgements and automates the outcome, irrespective of the data type.
Job Opportunities and Roles in RPA
Automation leads to Jobs taken away from people. However, the person whose job will be taken, is the one who does not learn the new skills and tools required by the changing landscape, propelled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR).
Apart from leveraging on partnership programs from RPA Software companies or starting an RPA company, one can find a role as either an employee within an organisation or consultant proffering RPA solutions and services. Some of these roles are;
- RPA Developer: This is for those with programming skills, they can create, extend and integrate RPA scripts.
- RPA Business Analyst: An RPA business analyst will gather requirements and estimate cost for implementation.
- RPA Process Architect: Designs process and end-to-end automation. RPA Data Analyst: Collection and analysing data.
It will not be long before large organisations in Nigeria consider RPA not just as a novel and disruptive technology but an essential one that lowers their overhead, including the human cost.
Process Automation will not slow down anytime soon. But we expect widespread adoption across industries especially in the finance sector as years go by.
The advice for local entrepreneurs is to start building a business around this by developing their own Bots or providing value-added services to the emerging industry. This will create employment opportunities to augment and replace those that might be lost due to the emergence of RPA.
Robotic Process Automation is an untapped opportunity in Nigeria and Africa, and it will either take, change or create jobs in the nearest future.