RPA Shaking Up Freight Industry
RPA (robotic process automation) is transforming organisations in many industries. In fact a recent report claimed that 72% of companies will automate processes by 2019. But what is RPA? It uses technology to automate processes with a rule based approach – ultimately creating a virtual workforce. It is beginning to make waves within the transport industry particularly as there are a huge number of manual based tasks that are prime candidates for RPA. Furthermore, it is an opportune time to drive cost efficiencies as margins within the industry are being continuously squeezed. Within this article we will look at the use case for RPA, the advantages, and explore what a hybrid approach to RPA is.
RPA Use Case
RPA is a natural choice to automate processes that are:
- Time critical
- Highly manual
- Low exception
- Low complexity
- Prone to error
- Rules based
Whilst this is quite a long list, it actually includes many business processes, particularly within the freight industry where there is a high level of repetition and manual intervention. If you consider the uploading of routes which traditionally have relied on human rekeying from one system to another – RPA takes away this manual intervention. Furthermore, this is a great springboard to employing Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can be useful for more complex tasks and the management of larger data sets as the robots in this case have the ability to ‘learn’. Artificial Intelligence technology is improving at a rapid pace and businesses who are not at least discussing it for their technology road map are at a risk of being left behind.
It is clear that RPA is hugely useful for taking on repetitive and mundane tasks, but there are many more advantages:
- The tools are very cost effective, and typically offer a substantial saving against human labour performing the same task.
- The technology is far quicker than human workers. That means that productivity can be greatly increased.
- Existing processes and systems can be optimised.
- The robots do not sleep and they do not go on holiday. They will work when you want them to, 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. This makes the business far more responsive to global customer needs.
- Robots make less errors than humans as long as they are programmed correctly. This decreases business risk.
- Robots free up human labour to focus on relationship building with clients, sales, or more value add tasks than data entry. This should lead to greater employee empowerment which we know increases their motivation and productivity.
- There is an opportunity to positively transform the customer experience in a number of ways.
- It is easily updatable in line with business changes.
- Opportunities for quick and easy business scalability.
What about legacy systems?
The good news is that RPA can utilise existing technology platforms which have already been tested, validated and integrated across the organisation. A lot of organisations are concerned they will need to make fundamental and expensive changes to their technology platforms to adopt and benefit from RPA – but that is not the case.
What about the workforce?
It is well known that business change can be troublesome for employees, and that is particularly true when that change might lead to redundancies by replacing people with technology. The reality is that RPA will reduce the number of employees required to undertake manual processes. However many businesses will likely see this as a brilliant opportunity to remove the more mundane tasks away from their staff and give them far more interesting and strategic work to focus on.
What about hybrid automation?
We know that some processes are perfect candidates for RPA as they are repetitive and rules based. However there will remain a number of processes that are still undertaken more accurately and efficiently when carried out by humans. It is not difficult to imagine that this could possibly lead to inefficiencies if there is a robotic workforce working in a silo from a human workforce. Hybrid automation solves this potential issue by providing a solution that integrates the two workforces seamlessly. The result is an efficient, fully transparent and robust end to end process that unifies the workforce, maximising scalability and flexibility.
Within the freight industry, there has been a slow adoption of RPA technologies which is most likely due to the age of the industry and the long reliance on and trust in manual processes. However, as the abundance of data increases through the likes of the Internet of Things and big data, those freight forwarders who want to not only keep pace but gain an edge on competitors, must find ways to work more efficiently. There are a huge number of advantages to be gained from using RPA, and the set up cost and time is fairly minimal. There will likely be some resistance from the existing workforce, but it is the job of the management team to sell the benefits of removing mundane tasks from their workload and giving them more value add activities to focus on.