Welcome To The Office, Mr. Robot
South Korea's DRC-Hubo wins 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BL4BwRuG6o]
Ever hear of the DARPA Robotics Challenge? During the first weekend of June this year, a robotics team from South Korea won first place in this challenge. Their prize-winning robot completed eight fairly complicated tasks in under 45 minutes. The secret to the Korean team's success was that their robot could change its basic structure not unlike those Transformers toys from the 1980s. The team left the California-based competition $2 million richer because of their amazing robot.
That's a hefty monetary prize for designing a robot. Ever wonder why? The answer lies in the corporate world. Industries are aggressively looking for new ways to bring about a substantial and tangible impact to what is loosely known as back-office operations. More formally and specifically, these important tasks are known as process metrics, which include determining the cost per claim, cost per service contact, and fraud prevention rates. Companies are trying to save on such back-office costs, while also growing their overall business. Think for a moment about how current businesses are being disrupted by digital engagement companies like Uber and Airbnb. The days when a manager could simply 'throw more bodies at the task' to get it done are long over.
During an interview with the winning team at the recent DARPA competition, the happy engineers admitted that robots have a long way to go before they become machines like the Terminator. But it's without a doubt that we have come a very long way in a very short time. And nowhere have advancements in robotics become more apparent than in the realm of business process outsourcing. Just when you thought offshore labor couldn't get more convenient, along comes an army of robots to do many of those administrative processing tasks even more efficiently.
We are at the dawn of an age in which robots will manage machines, and the exceptions - those instances that require outside-the-box human thinking - will be managed by human beings. Of course, you didn't think they'd simply be called robots, did you? The popular term these days is 'robotic process automation,' which, as far as I can tell, is the act of replacing human workers with intelligent machines that perform tasks more quickly and (more importantly) more cheaply, over the long run. The idea is that with outsourcing, which usually involves repetitive tasks like back-office operations, a 'virtualized full-time equivalent' (or, again, simply a robot) would take care of those tasks that would free up humans to do more important things, like taking care of 'boundary conditions' that don't conform to codified business rules.
Such robots are made up of three distinct elements. First, an automation toolset lets them grab digital data that can include screen scraping, digital image recognition, or even the ability to access a server or link to a website. Second is the visibility toolset. As you might expect, these tools provide visibility into key operational metrics of its deployment. Lastly there's the control tower toolset, maybe the most important element of all. This is the ability to control robots from a central location. So new robots can be on-boarded not unlike new human employees and assigned different processes based on insights from the visibility toolset. The best thing is that unlike their human colleagues, they don't request lunch-breaks!
Office robotics is a huge game-changer. I predict that in just a few years, robots will have transformed the way the off-shoring industry operates. Don't believe me? Robots cost one-third the price of offshored FTEs over the contract period and some take just days to automate processes. Better still is that your business can scale up or down rapidly and with all corporate governance minutiae taken care of from the get-go. Robotics platforms are secure, audited, and managed through normal governance available both on premise and on the Cloud. And none of these robots require a certain amount of sick days each quarter!
New technologies are focused on intelligent automation that amplifies things humans do. These amplifications result in hiring fewer off-shored humans. Much like the appearance of the desktop computer one generation ago, office robots will reduce error rates, standardize processes, better manage repeatable tasks, and create frictionless 'straight-through' processes. Automation has become a significant area of focus for a wide range of industries. Still, the human spark is, and will remain, essential to how knowledge work is orchestrated and managed.
Robots are changing process automation. A robot carries out its daily tasks and scales up and down when needed without impacting the existing IT structure. A robot can also improve service desk operations and monitor network devices. My favorite robot role is that of the virtual assistant. We're talking about machines providing services that are well beyond those of Siri or Alexa. These robots can structure basic content, process language, and even respond to employees in their natural language, rather than software code.
The best part is that robots are getting more intelligent by the day. They'll soon be able to tackle jobs that were once believed to be impossible for artificial intelligence. The Matrix, my friends, is about to come alive - but with a happy ending! We're at the dawn of a new era in which only a person's imagination will limit what can be possible.