Software bots: Businesses are developing a new type of assembly line: digital and staffed entirely by software bots.

Why it matters: For all the excitement and trepidation surrounding industrial robots, progress is being made in the field of digital workers: bots that can perform a rising range of frequently boring and time-consuming activities in an increasingly online commercial world.

Software bots
Image Credit: Axios

While some human employees may be automated out of a job, the change promises increased productivity and lower business costs.

How it works: Intelligent automation takes the logic of a physical assembly line — where labor is broken down into separate, individual jobs that can be completed more effectively in order — and applies it to the digital world.

According to Jason Kingdon, CEO of Blue Prism, a major intelligent automation company, intelligent automation helps companies to “rethink the process lines of how business is done.” “Why don’t you have digital assistants who can operate across your entire organisation?”

Kingdon gives the example of Blue Prism’s collaboration with banks to reduce credit card fraud.

According to him, banks “used to have a specialised crew that would go through (questionable) transactions and fill out the different papers that a credit card company would want.” “Now they train robots to perform that task and have it totally automated so that a robot can perform all of that activity.”

“It’s now a procedure that doesn’t require any human involvement.”
According to Gartner, company spending on robotic process automation, which is a subset of intelligent automation, will increase by approximately $1.5 billion in 2021.

By the end of 2026, it is expected to be worth more than $23 billion globally.
Trends that evolved from the epidemic, when corporations were obliged to digitize as quickly as possible, are fueling this expansion.

According to a McKinsey survey of global executives conducted in December 2020, 51% of respondents in North America and Europe increased their investment in new technologies in 2020 — excluding remote work — and companies were able to digitize many business activities 20 to 25 times faster than they had anticipated.

The broad picture: Just as Henry Ford and his colleagues revolutionized manufacturing by dividing tasks down into an assembly line, intelligent automation works best when knowledge work can be broken down into discrete micro-tasks that bots can accomplish.

According to Kingdon, “intelligent automation is not a single monolithic capability.” Rather, the query is: “How do you divide that task down into little, well-understood chunks? The digital employees can then synthesise and combine all of these steps.”

The catch: Intelligent automation, like any other form of automation, can make individual human workers more productive — but it also raises the possibility of job loss in the long run as bots become more capable and firms to attempt to reduce payroll.

The bottom line, according to Kingdon, most businesses are “still very, very early in the journey” of intelligent automation.

“However, once you get started, you’ll notice that whatever you want codified can be done better.”

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