When I was a child, my dad gave me a humanoid-shaped Robot for my birthday that was modeled after the character in the classic movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” “Gort” was shaped a bit like the Tin Man from the "Wizard of Oz", but could decimate army tanks with light rays that emanated from an ominous slit for his eyes. I was immediately aware that the toy really wasn’t for me. Did I mention that my dad didn’t have any sons?

Between that image, and the one that comes to mind in the auto factory, where robots reach from their tethered holds to fasten nuts and bolts to cars on the manufacturing line, I admit to certain skepticism when I term “robotics”, applied to robotic process automation (RPA) for insurance.

In light of the insurtech craze, labels can be problematic. Doesn’t the word “robotic” mean that branch of engineering that involves the conception, design, manufacture, and operation of robots (machines capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer)?

Kevin Meadows, managing director of Accenture’s Financial Services Operating Group, seems to agree. In a recent blog he states:

“It should be pointed out that RPA has nothing to do with physical machines or actual robots; it’s an entirely virtual concept that is driven by software that sits on top of an insurance company’s systems, applications and infrastructure.”

Fair enough; and maybe it’s a matter of semantics, but the stated experts at UiPath define RPA’s purpose with a caveat,

"To use a computer [robot] to manipulate existing application software [CRMs, ERPs, help desk and claim applications] in the same way that a person works with those systems and the presentation layer to perform a specific task. The use of the word “robotic” to describe this rapidly growing field is somewhat misleading. These are not the robots of science fiction with artificial intelligence. Currently, the phrase ‘robotic process automation’ is used to refer to the use of sophisticated computer software that automates rule-based processes without the need for constant human supervision.”

Meadows says the insurance industry offers the ideal landscape for RPA because of the many repetitive tasks that form the basis of an insurance transaction.

“Most insurance company back offices are replete with processes that conform to all of these rules,” he says, “whether reviewing a new submission, paying approved claims or managing accounts payable. In almost every department, there will be opportunities to utilize RPA effectively.” Imagine the time spent by the insurance IT director researching this latest phenomenon. My own research turned up an immediate question: how is RPA different from artificial intelligence and machine learning, two other relatively new areas of IT focus?

I was lucky to find a blog written by Bart van der Mark, AVP in Cognizant’s Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Europe office who clarifies, “In order to intelligently automate processes end-to-end and drive value beyond running current processes better, companies are starting to embrace the idea of the Automation Continuum, encompassing systems that “Do” [RPA] and systems that “think” and “learn” [Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning].”

The RPA and integration experts at UiPath count several BPO organizations as customers, as well as Zurich, AXA, Swiss Re and Aon. The use case provided by UiPath is for generic order management, notes that 800 FTEs, using 50 robots, reduced AHT (Average Handler Time) from 30 minutes to 10, saw ROI in six months, and ultimately enjoyed an 80% cost reduction. Other benefits are promised, such as time-to-market, accuracy, cost, scalability and compliance.

Aside from the label “robotic” as an agreed-upon misnomer, there is certainly more to learn about this type of process automation, and in particular RPA’s capabilities and potential benefits, and it’s hard to ignore the excitement of these types of technologies taking hold in our industry. Meanwhile, don’t get me started on bots--soft, chat, transactional, informational or otherwise.

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