The Future of Automation: Free Expert Seminars

Professor Leslie Willcocks is a Professor of Work, Technology and Globalisation at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a global thought leader and author on automation and the future of work.  Prior to arriving in Australia and New Zealand for a series of high value seminars in August in association with Blue Prism, he gave IDM a glimpse into his thoughts on what the impact of next generation automation will mean for the public sector.

IDM: What is the difference between RPA and intelligent automation.

LW: RPA is software that can be configured to do the work a human can do that involves processing structured data, using rules, to produce certain outcomes. It is best used for repetitive, relatively simple tasks, that are large volume, where the process is mature, stable, and optimised. My widely used phrase for this is that RPA ‘takes the robot out of the human’.

Intelligent automation is a catch all phrase that includes RPA, cognitive automation tools (e.g. machine learning algorithms, visual image processing, natural language processing), analytics tools and AI. The phrase is more accurate than using AI for all these technologies that do not really fulfil the definition of AI as ‘using computers to replicate what minds can do’.

IDM: You’re visiting ANZ to give a series of seminars focusing on automation in government and healthcare agencies – what is the biggest impact likely to be?

LW: We are finding RPA is delivering multiple organisational benefits, if properly managed. So over the next five years I would see government and health care – which are heavily information based and great targets for automation in their service and back office dimensions trialling and taking on more and more RPA, then taking advantage of complementary cognitive automation tools that enhance the power of RPA, for example allowing the use of unstructured data by converting that into structured data for RPA use, powering  analytical insight from the RPA data exhaust. The gains are in regulatory compliance, improved customer service, hours back to the business, cost, efficiency, accuracy, and dealing with the ever-rising amount of work to be done in these organisations. I see automation much more as a set of coping technologies than job replacement headcount reduction technologies i.e. about doing more, a lot more with the same or slightly a smaller number of retrained people. Note that most of the reports in the last year projecting job loss from automation to 2030 come out with very small figures, for example McKinsey in 2019 reckoned that the net job loss globally would be 1%. The key issue is skills shifts, not job loss numbers.

IDM: From your research, how advanced (or not) are the Australian and New Zealand public sectors when it comes to adopting intelligent automation compared to the rest of the world?

LW: Adoption and applications in the public sector are netting variable results. It’s been slower to begin than the private sector, but as the market accelerates there’s a real opportunity for forward thinking entities to become leading practitioners. Total revenue from the intelligent automation market by end of this year is sitting around $US 5-6 billion, but its poised to rise to 46.5 billion by 2024, with revenue rising at an exponential rate – about 48-50% per annum over that period.

US health care has spent a lot on intelligent automation, to some extent to good effect, though there have been some poor results and there have been notable successes within the UK NHS. Here in Australia, finance, education and defence are making some great advances and it’s going to be interesting to see what comes next.

IDM: What are the biggest challenges for government when it comes to adopting intelligent-automation solutions?

LW: There are understandable issues with political agendas – for example managing perceptions of job loss in particular states or regions that cannot afford job loss. The main challenge is getting the management act together to scale the resources, projects, and applications in order to get the real benefits from automation freeing people up to do work that play to human strengths e.g. problem solving, customer relationships, decision making.

There is already a skills shortage felt in the intelligent automation area, so public sector organisations are going to have to carefully think through the management skills and changed skill sets needed for development and deployment and focus a lot on growing their own capabilities. Part of the general challenge is getting people to see that it is not so much about the technology as the organisational imperatives and processes, and how well the change process is managed. It is best NOT left just to IT departments, though they are vital to success, but growing the business capability side is a real challenge.

IDM: Can you give us a sneak peek into what attendees can expect to learn from the seminar series?

LW: I think we have a real insight into how automation is going to play out in the next 12 years, and it’s not as most headlines suggest. I think our analysis of hundreds of deployments of intelligent automation has identified the key management practices that get superior value from automation, and some 41 material risks to avoid, and how to avoid them. We also see the way forward, with many examples, of how the move is towards integrated automation platforms. I will also be suggesting that Artificial Intelligence is really over-hyped and organisations should be focusing on RPA and the next steps with complementary cognitive technologies – there is more than enough advantages from that, and it matches the speed with which the necessary management and skills can be put in place to deploy these technologies.

IDM: And where do you see the biggest impact on the citizen journey occurring?

LW: Well at its best automation gives a simpler faster experience of government services, more accurate, better quality, and more opportunity to deal with knowledgeable people where there are difficult problems that can be resolved by automation. Meanwhile the back-office backlogs will get more relief as a result of automation. But all this is dependent on getting the data sorted – historically most public sector organisations are not great at data management (but they are not alone in that!)

IDM: Which government around the world is leading the pack with its adoption of automation?

LW: A lot are leading the world at the level of policy, but very few at the level of actual practice! 

I think Australia is doing some very interesting things, USA is making the most investments, and the UK is slow and pragmatic in its usage pattern. Not well advertised are some great uses in Scandinavia, and Germany. 

At a series of Free Seminars in August 2019, Professor Willcocks will outline how to take advantage of the next generation of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), namely Intelligent Automation, and examine how RPA and Intelligent Automation are changing the workforce across the globe. 

To register, select your city …

Wellington | Tuesday, 6 August | Register

Brisbane | Thursday, 8 August | Register

Melbourne | Friday, 9 August | Register

Canberra | Tuesday, 13 August | Register

Sydney | Wednesday, 14 August | Register

Perth | Friday, 16 August | Register