Bots, by definition, automate manual work. Unfortunately, these software programs that perform repetitive, pre-defined tasks are suffering from an image crisis. From being used to facilitate election interference to aiding corporate espionage, cases of bot misuse continue to hit the headlines.
Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we are usually only presented with one side of a complex and fascinating story. The truth is that with the help of bots, tasks that used to take businesses weeks to complete can now be executed in a matter of seconds. By automating mundane, repetitive work, bots are freeing up time for creative, strategic thinking across a whole host of industries.
Robotic process automation
Robotic process automation (RPA), a market that is projected to reach $1.89 billion in revenues in 2021, is just one area where bots are proving invaluable. With RPA, businesses can automate repetitive tasks – like data entry, data extraction, and invoice processing – rather than relying on a human workforce to complete them. As such, RPA gives businesses unmatched scalability. A bot can, after all, perform the same process 10, 100 or even 10,000 times per day without issue. Throughout the pandemic, bots have enabled organizations to react quickly to the demand irregularities and supply chain bottlenecks that go hand in hand with economic uncertainty.
As businesses adjust to new ways of working, cost-saving remains a top priority – another benefit of RPA. For instance, Gartner estimates that using software robots could save financial services organizations up to 80% on processing costs. Plus, robots work with an unmatched level of precision.
What does this mean for employees? Rather than merely “stealing jobs”, bots typically free up time for problem-solving and building personal relationships. In a Forrester employee survey, 66% of respondents said RPA enabled them to have more human interactions, and 60% said RPA helped them to focus on meaningful, strategic tasks.
Data collection bots – fueling the real-time economy
Perhaps more than any other area, online data collection has been revolutionized by bots. The world’s largest database is the public internet and there’s no doubt that data fuels the digital economy. Today, the largest brands in e-commerce, finance, security, and more use up-to-the-minute data collected by bots to train algorithms and make smart decisions in near real-time.
Consider this example from the financial services sector. It’s becoming more commonplace for banks and financial institutions to collect publicly available alternative data to inform ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment decisions, which are designed to maximize both financial returns and social good. This data typically includes measurable metrics from areas such as energy use, emissions, discrimination lawsuits, board diversity, etc. In fact, recent research found that 95% of financial services organizations have relied on alternative data in the past year alone. As ESG investing becomes an increasingly established practice worldwide, this trend seems set to continue.
Bots – how to remain on the responsible side of the road
“At bottom, robotics is about us. It is the discipline of emulating our lives, of wondering how we work.” This thought, from Rod Grupen, renowned Professor of Robotics at the University of Massachusetts, perfectly encapsulates how we should be thinking about the role of bots in today’s society. Bots work on instructions given by humans, automating our actions, not our behavior. As such, it’s up to businesses to use them responsibly. Hearteningly, a recent survey of 4,000 decision-makers across the financial services and technology sectors found that the vast majority of organizations have clear guidelines in place to moderate bot use. In the US, 48% of organizations surveyed said they have guidelines in place to moderate all usage of bots, while another 48% said they have guidelines relating to some uses. In the UK, these figures are 57% and 40% respectively.
Like many fast-moving technological disciplines, the bot space is still largely unregulated. Though regulation would no doubt help to ensure that businesses use bots responsibly, it seems appetite for regulatory change is limited. The same survey found that a slim majority of respondents were satisfied with the current level of regulation related to enterprise bot use – 47% of US organizations and 60% in the UK. Meanwhile, 45% of US organizations and 33% of UK organizations actively wanted to see increased external regulation of bots.
Ultimately, with 95% of businesses planning to expand their bot usage in the next two years, it’s inevitable that they are here to stay. Personally, I’m excited by the potential of bots to drive forward innovation, as well as improving decision-making and employee experience – as long as organizations commit to using them responsibly.