Automation and artificial intelligence has long been a driver of change in organisations. But Covid-19 has made such technologies a boardroom priority – and they are here to stay, according to a recent Forrester report.

As the pandemic’s effects recede, “the time to take a long view of automation is now,” the report wrote. Organisations need to accelerate their adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) to be better prepared for future crises.

RPA, together with artificial intelligence and machine learning, acts like a digital workforce. It can automate high-volume, repetitive tasks, and mimic human action to complete work without the need for human intervention. Experts from Automation Anywhere share how the technology has been used in three industries to streamline processes and enhance service delivery.

1. Healthcare

For healthcare providers, efficient and reliable patient care is often a matter of life and death. But legacy systems are often outdated and require manual data entry. Masses of data are also left untapped, resulting in missed opportunities to enhance patient care.

RPA, together with artificial intelligence acts as the digital workforce, can help to automate repetitive processes, eliminate human error, and analyse patient data to personalise care.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the number of patients who require oxygen support. Hospital staff at Northampton General Hospital in England manually monitored and collected readings from oxygen tanks every six hours.

But as more patients entered the hospital, readings had to be collected almost every hour. The hospital implemented RPA to increase efficiency and reduce human error. This enabled oxygen levels to be monitored round the clock without the need for human intervention.

Bots also automatically input readings sent from the oxygen tank into the hospital’s system. The bots then extracts the last reading, updates a spreadsheet, then updates a dashboard that provides regular, instant updates to the incident room.

In just a month after the bots were deployed, about 1,500 human hours have been freed up. RPA has also mitigated clinical risks by sending updates to the incident response team, instilling confidence in the team and patients.

2. Human resources

Human resources is meant to be about the people, not about the processes. Yet many HR teams today are overwhelmed with manual tasks, shifting much-needed time and attention away from employee development and welfare.

RPA can streamline candidate screening by automating resume reviews, background checks, and preparing of offer letters. It can also automate bonus calculations based on predefined metrics, generating unique compensation statements for each employee.

Dell was one of the first companies to implement RPA bots to automate HR processes. Before RPA was implemented, expense error reports went to a HR staff who would look up information and identify the right person to fix the error.

With bots in place, information in an error report is consumed and put into a case management tool, where it was automatically assigned to the correct HR operations staff. RPA is also used to deliver completed offer letters to North American candidates.

In 2019 alone, 30 HR functions were automated, generating efficiency gains of 85 per cent.

3. Accounting

Automation is set to drive 50 per cent of financial processes in the next few years, according to Automation Anywhere’s estimates.

It is set to reduce manual touch points and lower labour costs, increasing efficiency and reducing human errors. RPA bots can also access unstructured data from invoice documents and update payment records.

Automation has been a valuable tool to Australia Post’s accounting services department. Being one of the country’s oldest government services, it embraced automation to restructure workflows and increase efficiency.

RPA bots were implemented to fully automate the maintenance of financial journals and apply credit to customer accounts quickly and efficiently. As of today, over 120 bots have been deployed, saving Australia Post 18,000 man hours annually and reducing the accounting department’s costs by 15 per cent.

It is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ the next crisis will be. Whether it’s a global pandemic or a devastating recession, RPA will enable organisations to be better prepared and face challenges head-on.