By: Saurabh Banerjee, Senior specialist, Sapient Consulting
In 2017, large corporations have shown a huge interest in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) cutting across industry verticals. RPA found many takers in the services industry, particularly in financial services. In the last decade, advances in AI have been primarily driven by technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Now traditional industries such as financial services are also waking up to the promise of AI. Following are some key trends that we can expect to see in 2018.
- RPA adoption will continue to grow in 2018 as businesses become more digital
As businesses compete with each other to attract and retain today’s digitally savvy customers, business operations are increasingly stressed to deliver more with less to satisfy customer expectations. The pace of change is too fast to allow businesses sufficient time to acquire and implement enterprise applications that seamlessly integrate with each other for straight-through processing. Moreover, end to end application and data integration is often not viable due to prohibitive cost of replacing expensive legacy applications. RPA can automate some of the human work for data entry, working with spreadsheets, orchestration and coordination across multiple applications that don’t talk to each other.
Rule-based manual steps in back office processes, that are often subject to seasonal variation in workloads such as customer onboarding, support, bank reconciliation and accounting have been prime targets for RPA. Cost reduction has been a key driver for automation of desktop-based manual steps such as data extraction, data entry and email processing. Apart from cutting costs, automation has helped reduce cycle time of business processes while ensuring better service quality by eliminating human errors in repetitive laborious tasks. By adopting RPA, many businesses have been able to free up existing resources for more high value work such as dealing with exception scenarios.
Return on investment on RPA can be realized fairly quickly. Many companies have reported huge gains from RPA. ANZ Bengaluru Hub has been on the forefront of RPA implementation and has reported cost savings as high as 40% or more and substantial reduction of end to end delivery time for customers.
- AI powered smart process automation will continue to grow
In 2018, AI powered RPA will automate complex business processes. It is often difficult to match incoming payments with invoices to determine who’s paying for what. In August 2017, Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced that they have developed an intelligent receivables application that uses AI to improve straight-through reconciliation of incoming payments. Business use cases continue to grow with each success opening up yet more opportunities to explore.
- Chatbots will drive business adoption of AI
AI leverages various underlying technologies such as machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and natural language generation. Conversational AI offers many opportunities for B2C businesses. Major Indian banks such as State Bank of India, HDFC, ICICI Bank, Yes Bank and others are already using chatbots to automatically respond to customer queries. AI powered sales assistants can follow up on sales leads while giving clients the impression that they are interacting with a human. AI based bots can send customer notifications for past due payments by automatically selecting the best time to send an email for a particular customer as well as selecting the right tone based on customer profile and past outcomes.
- AI powered voice enabled assistants will redefine the way customers engage with businesses
Natural user interfaces, such as voice activated systems, represent the next major disruption in computing. Businesses can now build “voice-first” applications that can redefine customer experience.
Amazon Alexa is at the forefront of the race to capture the voice market. Amazon recently announced that Alexa powered Echo Dot topped Amazon’s global sales from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday in the US. Many businesses are already in the race to build applications for Alexa. US Financial institutions such as Capital One and U.S. Bank have already released applications on Amazon Alexa. U.S. Bank customers can check their account balance, hear payment due dates, obtain transaction history or make credit card payments by talking to their Amazon Alexa device! India is just the fourth country after the U.S., the U.K., and Germany to receive the Echo speakers. It has been reported that HDFC Bank is developing applications based on Alexa. If sufficiently developed, AI powered voice banking in local languages can be a great boon for Indian villages where large population cannot read or write.
In short, AI will be ubiquitous, impacting our daily living in ways we have not yet imagined. AI guru Andrew Ng has famously stated that “AI is the new electricity”. According to him, just as hundred years ago electricity transformed industry and society; AI is now poised to have a similar impact on society. Hence, we should no longer ask: Is AI ready for business adoption? Rather we should ask: Are businesses ready for AI? Major governments including US, China, UK are already taking keen interest in the disruptive potential of AI as strategic technology for peaceful as well as military use. Recently Indian government has constituted an expert group to establish an AI policy. The global race for AI is about to begin!