Care to innovate? Automate the boring stuff

March 03, 2017 10:48
Robotic Process Automation is a technology that essentially automates all of the repetitive, rules-based tasks that occur in pretty much any industry, including Hong Kong’s pillar sector finance. Photo: UiPath Robotic Process Automation

Listening to CY Leung’s 2017 Policy Address in January, I was pleased to learn of the Hong Kong government’s proposed HK$18 billion investment in innovation and technology, which will help to subsidise "industry adoption of technology to upgrade and transform", among other things.

This is timely, as like many developed nations, Hong Kong needs to look to additional means to drive growth, and technology-assisted productivity is an obvious place to start.

Increased productivity will be vital for economic growth for Hong Kong, and the Special Administrative Region’s politicians, business people and citizens will need a combined effort to essentially do more work with the same amount – or less – of manpower and resources.

Recently though, things have not going so well, with Hong Kong seeing a 1.93 percent drop in productivity per a report from the Workforce Analytics Institute.

Regional arch-rival Singapore recently knocked the SAR off the top spot as the region’s most productive city, according to CLSA Ltd., a brokerage firm.

Skills shortages are one reason for this and are already costing Hong Kong. According to a recent survey by Robert Half, three in four chief financial officers are experiencing talent shortages, to such an extent that it is affecting their productivity and revenue, and many are experiencing significant competition from abroad.

So an embrace of technology is a smart way to both address skills shortages and become more productive, but the question then becomes, which technology, and how can it be implemented in a way that improves overall productivity?

This is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) comes in, a technology that is perfectly suited to Hong Kong.

RPA essentially automates all of the repetitive, rules-based tasks that occur in pretty much any industry. So in finance – one of Hong Kong’s leading industries – armies of workers will be employed to process loans, move data around, literally copy and pasting data in many cases.

Industries from retail to hospitality require the presence of accounts departments, and junior accountants whose task it is to process invoices – again monotonous, repetitive tasks that can easily be automated.

RPA is software (not a physical robot, although the software is commonly referred to as a "robot") that mimics a human, and can be placed on top of existing IT systems, removing the need to change underlying code and so reducing cost and easing implementation.

Results are often immediate, without the need to sleep, eat or take smoking breaks, the robots can work 24/7 and growing Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability is enabling them to become even quicker and more efficient.

Importantly, by automating the monotonous, "boring" tasks, employees will be able to do higher value work. For example, accountants will no longer start off their careers as mere bean counters, rather, they will immediately be able to start learning the skills of a consultant, allowing them to provide a more rounded service for their clients now that much of the data crunching has been automated.

By reducing the amount of manpower needed for routine tasks, banks will be able to provide a higher level of service with the same, or lower number of employees.

This will reduce the cost of finance, allowing them to lend to more SMEs and start-ups, further boosting the economy.

Humans are not designed to do boring work, we tend to make errors, become disillusioned and ultimately leave. This is the same for a factory worker who makes the same product day in, day out, as it is for the finance graduate who, after spending thousands in university fees ends up spending the first few years of his/her career processing loans and copy-pasting data.

Time for Hongkongers to embrace a technology that suits them best, one that will allow them to become more innovative, creative and productive.

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President & CEO (India & APAC) of UiPath