Technology has long promised to eliminate tedious duties and free your staff to focus on higher-value tasks – but it often fails to deliver.
This looks set to change with the advent of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – sophisticated software ‘robot’ technology that has now advanced to the point where adoption in the workplace is practical. So much so that multinationals like Walmart, Deutsche Bank, AT&T, Ernst & Young and American Express have all incorporated RPA into their operations.
For the legal profession, which still sees a high reliance on paper documents, and which can involve significant research and information gathering, the case for automation and digitisation is compelling. Document automation and other technology-enabled tools can offer significant time savings and operational efficiencies.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
RPA is a type of virtual workforce – or business process automation technology – that uses software or ‘bots’ to replace manual high-volume or repetitive tasks. RPA is especially suited to performing repetitive back-office production processes and IT operations, like processing transactions, manipulating data and responding to communications.
In short, it helps get more work done in less time and at a lower cost than using human workers. This type of software-powered ‘digital labour’ is now cheaper, faster and more productive than traditional approaches, including offshoring. This is why companies in other industries have already implemented RPA in a range of low-value repetitive tasks, including processing transactions, searching for and manipulating data, and responding to communications.
RPA is also being ‘supercharged’ with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities like natural language processing. This more advanced implementation, also known as intelligent automation (IA), promises to have the same judgement capabilities as humans.
The benefits of pivoting to RPA
Some of the more obvious benefits of pivoting to RBA include:
- Freeing up human capital to refocus on high-value tasks
- Mitigating risk and minimising human error
- Improving manual processes – specifically their speed and accuracy
- Providing faster access to information
- Reducing the admin workload for staff
- Ensuring compliance in highly regulated sectors
For good reason, the accuracy and enhanced compliance has made RPA popular in highly regulated industries like banking, healthcare, insurance and legal sectors. This is not to say it can entirely replace humans, however, as the algorithms are designed only to solve specific problems or tasks.
RPA: The use case for law firms
The value/cost ratio benefits of automating time-consuming administrative tasks
Practical applications include using document scanners coupled with Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technologies
Another practical application of the technology is helping to effectively assess the risk of taking on a new client – with bots assessing their credit rating and fiscal standing. This can also be extended to determine the opportunity cost of committing to a case, with RPA calculating the total number of hours the case is likely to require.
In all scenarios a human can assess the findings, adjustment parameters and assumptions, and make the final call. However, RPA can also help reduce human error – including improved accuracy on filing and naming, and the overall service law firms provide their clients.
How much can you save with RPA?
There are significant savings to be had by introducing RPA into your practice, firm or operation.
Cloud computing provider Appian calculates cost savings of anywhere from 25 to 40 per cent, an impressive figure given that traditional business outsourcing models generally amount to a 5 to 10 per cent saving. Professional services network PwC maintains that RPA can quickly deliver ROIs of 300–800 per cent, 24/7 productivity (with one bot replacing up to three workers) and 100 per cent accuracy on automated cases.
It does, however, need to be correctly implemented to realise a strong return on investment.
Implementing RPA: how to get it right
As with any new technology or application, successfully implementing RPA requires careful planning and consultation. Bear in mind that generally RPA is applicable to rule-based, repetitive processes, so set realistic expectations and be prepared for teething problems.
Look to build awareness among your staff of RPA and its benefits, as well the potential impacts, well in advance of deployment. This will help reduce the inevitable anxiety that often accompanies the adoption of a new technology and smooth the acceptance of RPA in your firm.
Also be aware that RPA will not fully replace all human roles, but staff should have more time to focus on higher-value tasks and functions.
The benefits of applying RPA to select support processes in a law firm can help streamline business operations and accelerate service delivery. This, together with the prospect of improved compliance and an enhanced customer experience, makes pivoting to the technology a compelling option.