The essential robots
Companies are advancing in Brazil regarding the practical application of robotic process automation and robotic cognitive automation concepts, ensuring efficiency and agility in data analysis.January-March | 2018
In a not too distant past, the idea that robots could undertake several tasks at companies of any sector seemed something out of a movie. Metallic androids sitting in offices and replacing humans? Yet, in 2018, the entry of robotics in the organizations’ daily management has nothing to do with fiction. The resources known as Robotic Process Automation – RPA and Robotic Cognitive Automation – RCA represent the next frontier in the search for greater agility and reduction of costs.
Timesaving, greater accuracy and consistency in data analytics are some of the main competitive advantages obtained with the application of these resources, especially in repetitive tasks and with a high volume of data. The next step is to understand how to use RPA and RCA to leverage the growth of organizations, to beyond the mere increase of efficiency.
A wealth of possibilities
Pioneering experiences have been recorded in Brazil in fields such as Tax and Shared Services Center (CSC) management, process centralization structures that concentrate activities in various areas, such as HR, administrative, logistics, IT, among others. However, how robotics works in practice? “Due to a large amount of low complexity manual tasks with low value added, tax controls, for example, have a high appeal for the implementation of automation,” points out Fábio Pereira, Deloitte’s partner in the Business Consulting area. In a CSC management, the use of RPA and RCA can provide crucial gains.
The Brazilian CSCs are already very mature and optimized in terms of structure. Any percentage point gained in efficiency already makes a difference, and automation can bring that quickly and efficiently., Fábio Pereira, Deloitte's partner in the Business Consulting area.
Cristiano Alcântara, Bunge’s CSC director, exemplifies the possibilities mentioned by Pereira, from Deloitte: “Every 10 days, our area generates approximately 180 reports. Using people, we would spend on average three days to generate them, while a robot performs the same activity in two hours. It is a gigantic volume of data, which used to cost a very high operational effort from our team. Today, we use this time in more challenging activities.” This Bunge’s structure manages the movement of approximately 8 000 trucks per day, across all regions of the country – which also involves thousands of routes, freight contracts and insurance policies. All this is done in an automated fashion, with the application of RPA. “We have reached an incredible operational efficiency and optimization of time and resources, which are used more strategically instead of being allocated in transactional tasks”, adds Alcântara.
A diagnosis made by Deloitte presents four types of RPA services that could be adopted by Brazilian companies:
1. Prototypes (simulations of some automation aspects)
2. Pilots (ideal platforms for internally disseminating the automation benefits)
3. Automation of “as is” processes (when there is not a significant change in existing processes)
4. Automation of redesigned processes (when there are gains in performance, quality and cost reduction)
In terms of RCA, possibilities include data digitization, machine learning and deep learning resources, application of artificial intelligence in service channels (chatbots) and predictive analysis.
The EDP’s experience – a Portuguese multinational company that operates in the energy market in Espírito Santo and São Paulo – shows the applications of robotics in voluminous and repetitive activities. “We started with tasks such as issuance of slips and filling out forms in 2016. In a little more than a year, we have automated 42 different activities”, announces Silvio Andrade, the company’s executive manager of New Technologies. “We have identified the most complex activities with the highest level of repetition activities and applied RPA solutions to them. It was a demand from the teams: more time to perform analytical functions, and less time spent on bulky tasks.” With this, EDP has accumulated over 35 thousand man/hours replaced by automated processes.
The path for Brazilian companies now goes through deeper exploration of RCA. The entry of cognitive resources, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will open new possibilities that go beyond operational gains. “We seek to leverage predictive analyses that will help in tax planning, using cognitive intelligence solutions,” says Alessandra Heloise, Claro’s Tax director. “With this, our area has more agility to assist the company in strategic decision-making.”
EDP is also preparing to take bolder steps. “Now that we have the expertise in the operation of RPA, we will invest in compliance processes. We have robots acting together with audit and we are developing researches, in a way to make the options of robotics and IA applied to our business tangible,” says Silvio Andrade.
“The volumes of data involved in our processes and the complexities of the Brazilian tax regulations are gigantic,” recounts Alessandra Heloise, from Claro. “The operational tasks can occupy up to 70% of an analysts’ time, to the detriment of analysis and quality actions. With RPA resources, we seek to improve operational efficiency, risk mitigation and gain more agility in the answers.” The telecommunications company has carried out several tests to verify the gains in time and quality. “We also seek to structure a governance that would allow quick and aligned actions to the regulatory agencies’ requirements,” recalls Alessandra.
People and career
This new work organization has also stimulated EDP to redesign their employees’ career plans. “At least 50 people were directly impacted. We have created five new careers linked to automated activities in the company, with professionals dedicated to automated functions and monitoring of results. Our R&D (Research & Development) department is also analyzing human resources and behavior issues related to this new reality,” says Andrade, from EDP.
Bunge, according to its CSC director, also sees many opportunities for human development within the advances of robotics. These technologies are able to increase the teams’ productivity, safety and training processes,” says Cristiano Alcântara. “Our main priority is to train the largest number of people capable of improving technologies and create these robots and, for that, we have formed groups to meet the demands of several areas, such as tax, accounting and human resources.”
The concern with the human side – especially the fear of replacing people for machines – is an important point in this transformation, recognizes Igor Ivanov, Deloitte’s Outsourcing director. “There is still some resistance because it is a very new topic. But it is here to stay. The secret is not in the robots, but in how companies are preparing to adopt them. Investing in culture, information and training is essential,” says the expert, who participated in an exchange to capture automation knowledge developed in other countries, such as Spain.
Quantum computing: revolution within the revolution
Even considering the Moore’s Law (which predicts that the processing capacity of computers doubles every 18 months) as valid, the current IT systems cannot yet take advantage of all the artificial intelligence’s growth potential, preform the factorization of large prime numbers or take care of algorithms with a high degree of complexity. Then quantum computing enters the scene, which employs the concepts of physics and quantum mechanics to build computers capable of taking care of these and other unimaginably advanced applications.
D-Wave Systems launched commercially, in 2017, a device that can handle 2,000 qubits, or quantum bit – equivalent to 22000 “traditional” bits. By working in a non-linear manner, D-Wave’s machines can simultaneously calculate all the possibilities of a given problem with a speed thousands of times faster than a conventional computer.
Companies such as Samsung, Daimler AG and Honda automakers, JPMorgan Chase and Barclays banks and Hitachi Metals steelworks already use quantum computing to develop new materials for automotive applications, resolve complex optimization issues (such as manufacturing processes or routing of vehicles for fleet logistics or autonomous cars) and to improve the ability of artificial intelligence resources.
As in all big innovation wave, the role of companies is essential, as far as they are ready to apply, learn and improve the new disruptive concepts, in the search for competitiveness.