How Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help ease Australia’s workforce challenges

How Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help ease Australia’s workforce challenges

The pandemic has impacted countries and economies in a lot of different ways, national economies have shrunk and lockdowns have caused major disruption to businesses large and small. Australia having navigated the pandemic for over a year now faces a new and unexpected challenge – filling job vacancies.

Business sentiment in Australia this year has been steadily improving, according to data from the ABS outlining that 19% of businesses surveyed said they expected to increase staff numbers over the next three months with more than half expected to be permanent. Businesses looking to hire is a good sign that they are able to expand and confident about being able to bring on permanent employees. The challenge these businesses are facing now is being able to fill those vacancies.

In the same dataset from the ABS, they found that more than two-thirds of businesses who don’t have a sufficient number of employees say that the main factor influencing their employee numbers is the ‘inability to find suitable staff’. The issue is most acute in large and medium sized businesses. How can businesses increase their output if the staff are not available?

Can automation save the day?

According to McKinsey, 45% of all paid tasks can be automated by utilising existing technology, given the challenge businesses are facing at the moment with hiring new staff, freeing up existing staff’s time can go a long way to help easing the pain that businesses are facing.

Automation technology has come a long way over the years. From what started off as basic computer programs that follow pre-defined rules or logic to automate different activities – which had limited application. Automation is now able to incorporate a range of advanced modern technologies like natural language processing, voice and image recognition, artificial intelligence, machine learning and process mining. Now, the possibility of a digital worker, or an automated team member trained to carry out a business process – just like a human employee –  is now a reality for businesses.

What can digital workers do?

Digital workers, powered by and built on Robotic Process Automation (RPA), are able to conduct a range of activities and tasks just like a human can do – faster and without mistakes. They login to systems in the same way a normal employee would which removes the need for complicated and expensive integrations whilst also making them suitable for legacy systems as well. Digital workers capture, interpret data or other inputs for completing business tasks. They can manipulate data and trigger responses to other systems based on pre-set rules and logic – basically anything you can map out in a process map that has set rules and decisions can be automated with a digital worker – they handle repetitive, large volume and rule-based tasks particularly well.

Digital workers, powered by RPA, gives businesses a genuine opportunity to help plug the gaps in their workforce through automation. Typically digital workers have been viewed as direct replacements – a cost cutting exercise for businesses, but this traditional view needs to change to help Australian businesses overcome this workforce shortage. Freeing up your existing staff, who are already very familiar with your business and processes, to spend more time on higher value tasks whilst automating the repetitive, higher volume activities can solve a real problem for businesses.

Consider if you had a team of 4 customer service representatives and through automation you were able to save them each 2 hours a day. Collectively that would add up to full time employee time savings over the course of a week, potentially removing the need to hire more staff.

Is Australia ready for a digital workforce?

A quick google search for automation returns over 601m results, it’s a topic that has been well written about, well researched and there are a number of products and services available for businesses to tap in to. Automation, whilst it has been embraced by a number of businesses, is still not widely commonplace, a recent Forrester study found Australian workers were the least ready to adopt automation in comparison with the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, China, and India.

Analysing Google Trends data we can see that interest for both Automation and RPA has steadily increased in the years up to the start of the pandemic and since automation has dropped off the agenda for Australian searches. RPA on the other hand has seen an increase in interest since the start of this year.

One of the biggest barriers to adoption of automation has typically been cost, large licences and big implementation fees have been the mainstay of automation technologies like RPA. More recently innovative technology players have utilised cloud infrastructure to deploy RPA and other automation technologies in a pay-as-you-go model – greatly reducing barriers to adoption.

Are Digital Workers Right for Your Business?

With the opportunity that digital workers can provide, the question for businesses now is whether they would benefit from them. The first thing that businesses considering digital workers should do is consider the processes that you would deem annoying, time consuming and take up a lot of resource time everyday.

Then start to map out the process including all the possible exceptions and edge cases that are in this process. The simpler the process the more likely it will be a good candidate to be automated. Once businesses have a few processes mapped out they can start investigating suitable technology solutions in the market.

Digital workers will never directly replace human workers but the augmentation opportunity can certainly ease the pressure on Australian businesses struggling to fill roles.

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