Turning to robotic process automation to improve efficiency
Boston Fed CIO says innovating with RPA can mean major cost, time savings
It’s called “robotic” process automation, but RPA is really all about humans, the repetitive tasks we perform, and the ways automation can free workers to become more engaged and productive. Automating repetitive tasks is not new. The auto industry, for instance, has used robots and automation for decades. But RPA simplifies the implementation of automation, and it’s a key element of digital transformation around the financial services industry.
In recent months, our Boston Fed team has spoken to numerous organizations about their plans for RPA, including benefits and tradeoffs. All have warned us about the hype.
When I speak with Federal Reserve colleagues about RPA adoption, it doesn’t mean we’re getting ready to greet metallic companions with blinking lights as they roll down our hallways. RPA is all software. It’s called “robotic” to emphasize its ability to step in and do repetitive tasks a human would typically do.
The hype is driven largely by major companies predicting automation will lead to big workforce reductions. Those concerns have filtered into the general workforce. On my way into work each day, I pass the billboard of a financial services company that states, “Robots can’t take your job if you’re already retired.” But automation and RPA specifically provide organizations the opportunity to focus their workforce on higher-valued skills, like better customer service or developing and executing strategy. RPA can unburden workers from mind-numbing but essential tasks that don’t necessarily need the power of a human brain. We should talk positively about automation as an opportunity to enhance workforce skills, not eliminate them.
At the Boston Fed, we have begun to deploy RPA in areas with significant amounts of compliance activities, which need to be error and bias free and consistently performed. We believe RPA will improve our work quality and allow the workforce to focus on evaluating indicators and trends that may require further action.
My hope is that by becoming a leader in RPA implementation, the Boston Fed can demonstrate to organizations and financial institutions around the country that RPA can be a valuable tool to improve efficiency and meet their strategic priorities.
Lightweight and efficient
“Digital transformation” is the implementation of digital technology into every aspect of an organization’s operations, and it is accelerating across industries and sectors. Digital transformation has already had profound effects in financial services, enabling banks to give smartphones the same capabilities as ATMs, powering high-speed securities trading platforms, and allowing brokerages to analyze the data behind personalized customer profiles in real time. RPA is another example of how digital transformation is leading to new capacities and efficiencies in the financial services sector.
Robotic process automation technology allows companies to configure software to mimic a human’s actions as he or she completes tasks inside digital systems. RPA is described as “lightweight” because it lives at the presentation layer of a system – a layer near the top of the networking stack that presents data to the application layer at the very top. So RPA doesn’t require changes to complex underlying systems, and it uses existing infrastructure, meaning it takes less time and money to implement.
Our commitment to RPA coincides with a push in our financial management community toward standardizing processes. To maximize the benefits of automation, a process needs to be standard across the organization and should be as lean and simple as possible.
As part of our RPA journey, we are standardizing functions and processes performed regularly by numerous people across the Reserve Banks. Our work involves detailed discussions to understand exactly how people do their jobs, because a process must be defined perfectly to be effectively automated. Over the Fed’s history, processes have evolved for various reasons, and we need to question “why” and “if” those reasons remain valid. The undertaking is as much about cultural change as it is technology.
We’ve enlisted more than a dozen people to work with a few hundred of the subject matter experts who regularly perform a given task. We document and review each process looking for opportunities to simplify, standardize and automate. We find people are generally excited about this change and the opportunity it provides them and the organization.
RPA isn’t just about technology, and it’s not about reducing headcounts. It is about leveraging the digital transformation opportunity to most effectively use our talent workforce and improve our overall ability to deliver upon our mission as the Federal Reserve.
To learn more about the Boston Fed's work in financial technology, check out our FinTech page.