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Automation and artificial intelligence: What it means for every Juan

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Robotic Process Automation or ‘RPA’ has taken the market by storm since its inception. The adoption of new and technologically advanced ways of working has become necessary in order to transform global companies and various industries into digitally enabled enterprises, and to stay relevant and competitive.

RPA is part of a wide spectrum of Intelligent Automation, along with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), drones and other machines that have the ability to learn such as Natural Language Programming (NLP) and chatbots. The impacts of these technologies are felt across multiple sectors such as health care, government, financial services, telecommunications, energy, automotive, retail/consumer and aerospace. What does this “industrial revolution” mean for every “Juan” or for each working Filipino and our economy? Let me provide an insight on what we can expect with Intelligent Automation and AI.

According to the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines and a number of research pieces published by consulting firms last year, the Philippines is one of the top Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) countries in the world. BPOs and Shared Service Centers have proliferated in the National Capital Region and have also reached the Visayas and Mindanao. Both are part of huge multinational companies quickly adopting and exploring RPA.

Recently, I led a successful implementation of some RPA pilot projects across Southeast Asia for a multinational company. Our team created software robots and automated selected processes from HR, Finance & Accounting and Marketing. The goals were to prove that these ‘bots’ can work within the organization’s technology environment and to quantify the RPA benefits.

The result was mind-blowing; return on investment of around 200% over five years, a digital work force that can work 24/7, reduced processing turn-around time up to 40%, an error rate from 0%  to 0.05% and improved compliance and control. These are some of the tangible benefits, which is why RPA has become hot in the market today.

The RPA project helped the organization release capacity and do two things — 1) allocate resources to shift focus from transactional work and move to a more complex value-adding work such as data analytics; and 2) absorb additional work with the same amount of resources — making the organization process-efficient and cost-effective.

RPA consists of software-configured robots that sit on top of existing systems to perform tasks that are performed by humans. These bots can undertake structured, repeatable and computer-based tasks and can access multiple systems (e.g. ERP, CRM, e-mail etc.) to complete the process. The bots will execute the steps to complete the process based on what it is programmed to do. For example, it can log in to an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system and generate a list from a report, validate the report, transfer and save the result into a spreadsheet or document, and send the document to a customer via e-mail. While these bots deliver expected outputs, they have limitations; they are not capable of learning trends, analyzing data and making decisions.

RPA pilot projects can be completed in five to 10 weeks depending on the complexity of the process being automated. The processes that fit well with RPA are those that are transactional in nature or routine with few or no human judgment needed. Note also that these bots can only read digitized inputs, which means they cannot process or recognize handwriting or scanned text… at least, not yet.

With the identified limitations of RPA comes a more advanced technology in artificial intelligence or AI. According to Andrew Ng, founder of the Google Brain deep learning project, “AI could be as important to transforming the economy as electricity was 100 years ago.”

AI incorporates “machine learning,” which means having the ability to learn by processing data without the need to be programmed. This machine-learning capability gives computers or bots the ability to do pattern recognition and construction of algorithms that predict data providing fast and efficient data-driven decisions.

AI is useful in a variety of sectors. The use of AI for drug discovery, predicting impact of containing and spreading diseases and robots in surgery may be utilized in the health industry. In the media industry, AI are able to personalize, generate and filter content (Think of Netflix). In transportation, Uber uses AI to find the best route to your destination. As reported by Bloomberg, Uber also started to use AI to charge customers based on what they are likely willing to pay for a trip to serve more people in more places at fares riders can afford.

“Chatbots” with NLP capabilities are quickly being explored in BPO call centers. These bots can let you choose flight seats, buy a ticket, change an appointment, order at a restaurant, etc. More than that, the chatbots are quickly evolving with the possibility of reading emotions through the facial features and inflections in tone of voice of the person they are communicating with. They can also use your Instagram feed to tell whether you’re clinically depressed.

AI evolves rapidly to the point of attempting to mimic the way our brain processes information. Take for example something as simple as predicting your buying behavior and receiving marketing ads in your social network account to an intelligent personal assistant with “Language Processing” capability like Siri for Apple and Alexa for Amazon Echo. These intelligent PAs are capable of voice interaction, paying your bills, providing real time information, controlling “smart homes” and even driving your car such as a Tesla. In gaming, both IBM’s Watson and Elon Musk’s OpenAI defeated game champions in Jeopardy and Dota 2. All of these capabilities are driving innovation at the cutting edge of AI, which can be seen in various applications today.

Another technology soaring in popularity is Drones as a Service. The use of drones is greatly expanding in the commercial and private sectors in North America and Australia. Police departments are flying drones to help with crowd control. My client uses drones to allow surveyors to collect accurate spatial data in mining sites, which vastly reduces risk by minimizing the times these staff spend on site.

Every Juan needs to be aware that there are more innovations and advance technologies ahead. It is our responsibility to learn and understand its impact to our work and economy, before becoming afraid. When electricity, the internet and mobile phones were first introduced, many jobs were replaced but many jobs were also created. Tread lightly; how we upskill our capabilities and quickly adapt to the change will prepare us for what’s to come. But it is not all up to Juan. The government and educational institutions should be prepared to support and equip the working Filipinos with the new knowledge and skills and help to make them available.

The next three to five years are indeed very exciting as well as challenging for every Juan in the realm of technology advancement.

The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Services Philippines Co. Ltd. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.

Angelo L. Basuan is a senior manager with the Management Consulting practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Services Philippines Co. Ltd., a Philippine member firm of the PwC network.

+63 (2) 845 2728 ext. 3108

angelo.l.basuan@ph.pwc.com

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