A New Approach to Automating Services.

Companies are achieving productivity gains by using software robots to perform routine, rules-based service processes. If implemented well, such automation can result in high-performing human-robot teams, in which software robots and human employees complement one another.

For more than 130 years, managers have, in effect, been trying to get humans to act like robots by structuring, routinizing, and measuring work — all under the guise of organizational efficiency.1 The automation software that is being developed today2 enables a reversal of this process. We are now able to use software robots to amplify and augment distinctive human strengths, enabling large economic gains and more satisfying work. However, given the widespread skepticism and fears about how many types of employment will fare in the future, managers are in a difficult spot. Media headlines such as the “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”3 and “A World Without Work”4 only serve to fuel the anxiety.

Although the term “robot” brings to mind visions of electromechanical machines that perform human tasks, the term as it relates to service automation refers to something less threatening: software that performs certain repetitive and dreary service tasks previously performed by humans, so that humans can focus on more unstructured and interesting tasks. Service automation includes a variety of tools and platforms that have various capabilities. While conducting research for this article, we interviewed people who used a variety of terms to discuss service automation. (See “About the Research.”) To help make sense of the landscape, we classified the tools along a service automation continuum based on the specific types of data and processes. (See “The Service Automation Landscape.”)

About The Research.

We conducted empirical research on service automation to answer three questions: (1) Why are companies adopting service automation? (2) What outcomes are they achieving? and (3) What practices distinguish service automation outcomes? To answer these questions, we conducted two surveys of professionals attending the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals world summits in 2015 and 2016 and conducted interviews with 48 people, including service automation adopters, software providers, and management consultants across the major business sectors.

In the course of our research, we collected 16 service automation adoption stories: 14 companies adopted robotic process automation, and two adopted cognitive automation tools. Depending on the subjects’ availability and preferences, we conducted interviews in person, over the phone, and through email. We posed a number of questions pertaining to their service automation adoption, the business value delivered, and lessons learned.

Source From: MITSloan Management Review