Robotization is a process that plays an increasingly important role in our lives every year. It optimizes operations, influencing corporate profit growth and economic development. It is also invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic.
What exactly do robots support us in, and how have they helped companies survive at this unprecedentedly hard time? We talked about this with Tomasz Smółkowski, an architect and expert on RPA at Sii’s Digital Competency Center.
Let’s talk about robots…
Tomasz Smółkowski: – … about virtual robots.
What do you mean?
What I mean is that together with my team we’re building robots that work on virtual machines.
But if they can’t be seen, how can they help us? What do they do?
T.S.: Our robots are built using the RPA technology (robotic process automation). They are virtual office workers that can do the same things as any of us does when working on the computer.
The same things?
T.S.: In most cases, yes. Of course, technology has its limitations. Among other things, repetitive and clear rules concerning the process or decisions made by robots.
So these are robots that make autonomous decisions.
T.S.: Yes. Of course, these decisions must be pre-programmed by a developer, and the robot needs full information to make them. This is where you can see the first limitation of robots – in the absence of information, humans will have to start searching for it.
And the robot?
T.S.: It only does what it has in the “code”, so it will stop working or show an error message saying that it was unable to solve the problem because… Everything depends on the instructions in the code. If they are correct, the robot can’t make a mistake.
Then how can a robot like this help us?
T.S.: With the development of technology and knowledge, it is easier to list things with which it can’t help. But starting with simple activities, it can create, save as well as move files and catalogues. It works with Word or Excel. It can move information from one app to another. It connects to websites and databases. It uses an API and works with chatbots.
I see you could talk about it endlessly.
T.S.: Definitely. As I mentioned before – with defined rules and digital data, robots are able to do almost any job and replace people by performing tedious tasks that no one likes.
You mentioned replacing people. Does it mean they can lose their jobs because of robots? At the time of pandemic, this doesn’t sound good.
T.S.: People don’t lose their jobs because of technology – it’s the technology that “replaces” people by taking over their tasks that are simple and tedious. Typically there are between 30 and 70 percent of such tasks in each company. On top of that, robots improve work and can cooperate with humans by doing basic tasks for them.
In short, we debunk the popular myth because we shouldn’t be afraid of them.
T.S.: For example, my wife dreams of having a robot to relieve her of some of her office tasks. Especially at this particular time, or even crisis, robots’ support is useful. Now everyone is getting better at dealing with the pandemic situation. But the threat has not gone away, and the robots are resistant to it.
What do you mean? How can robots affect the pandemic?
T.S.: I don’t think robots are better than humans, but at the time of pandemic, when our processes were under threat, robots turned out to be indispensable. They can be operated from anywhere in the world – and also built in the same way. They can be part of your infrastructure or you can have them in the cloud. Of course, robotization on a large scale brings new challenges, but, on the other hand, thanks to robots, our processes are uninterrupted. And in the case of institutions such as banks and large-scale service providers, process continuity is essential.
Could you please illustrate your point?
T.S.: For example – labour offices. They are now responsible for verifying business loan applications. I’m guessing that 90 percent of them are electronic. This calls for using robots to relieve workers verifying the correctness of the submitted documents. Based on what I’ve heard, the verification process itself will last several months. Robots would need only a few days because they can work 24/7.
So they would help a lot.
T.S.: Let’s now look at the current patient registration procedure in hospitals or medical centers. Despite all the computerization that has been going on in recent years, you still have to…
… go to the registration desk and provide your data.
T.S.: Exactly! And it’s not relatively safe – aside from the fact that we have a pandemic going on. The same work can be done by robots – from simple, patient-filled forms in Excel, which the robot can send to the registration system, to a chatbot, which during a conversation with the patient can collect the data needed and then enter it into the database.
T.S.: Offering similar help, robots can be also used in other processes in the area of administration or accounting. And it’s not even about replacing people but rather providing support during a difficult time or in the case of increased workload.
Is it hard to build robots like this?
T.S.: No, everything depends on our attitude and determination. I’ve trained people who don’t know any programming language to build robots and they build them effectively. The robots assist them and others in the performance of many duties.
When I’m listening to what you’re saying, the first thought that comes to mind is, “Oh, boy! It must cost a fortune!”.
T.S.: The easiest answer is “no” and “it depends.” On the market, there are over fifty companies that offer various types of robot-building software. Market consolidation has been going on and new companies have been established. For some applications, you have to buy a one-year license, while others can be used for free. This means that the choice is wide – all depends on what we want to use robots for and what company we represent. For sure robotization of only one process isn’t the best solution. You have to think globally and use technology to its full potential.