Can Business Processes Be Automated?

Tesla is determined to automate the entire sales and delivery process for their cars. I got my first Tesla in 2015 and put it on a three-year lease, knowing more enhancements would be coming. In 2018, I got the second Tesla, again on a three-year lease for the same reason. The second three-year lease just ran out, and I got a third Tesla (Model S Long Range) on another three-year lease. From the first year to now, the paperwork and processes have been greatly  enhanced.

Ordering a Tesla at tesla.com is as easy as ordering a BBQ grill on Amazon. The options are very clear, and comparisons of the different models and explanations of the features are easy to understand. You link tesla.com to your bank account for the deposit, and then click to order. Reminders come from time to time to complete the pre-delivery process. For example, you scan your proof of insurance and upload it to the site. Order and financing agreements are online. Your credit approval for the lease comes online and the bank link is established for monthly auto-pay (literally).

The lease on the first Tesla was provided by a bank. Near the end of the lease, they sent an inspector to the house. He took tons of pictures. I got charged $300 for a small ding on a fender. The second lease was through Tesla Finance, which is totally integrated on tesla.com. The lease-end steps are done by self-inspection. Using tesla.com on your smartphone, the site prompts you to take pictures and upload them to the site: front, rear, sides, interior, close-ups of wheels. To determine tread wear, you hold a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head pointed down and take a picture showing the wear. A handful of lease-end questions are answered online.

The day before taking delivery, an email prompted me to review documents online and make the first month’s lease payment via the linked bank. If you were not already familiar with how to drive a Tesla, video tutorials are available online. The site confirmed my requested appointment time, and everything was ready for delivery.

Delivery day at Mt. Kisco, NY was the day tropical storm Henri landed, so it was raining hard when I got to the Tesla delivery center. I walked in the front door and was greeted by an enthusiastic young person. He asked me to scan the QR code on a pedestal and offered to do it for me if I didn’t know how. The QR code took me to a simple form on my iPhone where I entered my name and email. The page confirmed I was checked in. The young man said, “You are good to go for your new Tesla, and an associate will meet you at the car within a half-hour. Are you excited?” He pointed to the parking lot where I parked my turn-in and said to look for the new Tesla with a sign in the windshield with my name. It said, “Congratulations!”, and showed my name, the model, the VIN, and my appointment time.

I asked if I could wait inside but he suggested I wait in the unlocked car. Within five minutes, another young associate appeared at my window with his umbrella. He asked me to sign a few things which were prepared in advance, he put the Florida license plate from the old car in the trunk so I could attach it once the registration comes through from Florida. Turning the old car in was simple as parking it in the delivery center lot. The Tesla associate took the paperwork to the office and got clearance to transfer the new car. He asked me to open my Tesla app on the iPhone, sign out and sign back in. Voila! My new car was on the app and the iPhone was now my car key. I was ready to go, and off I went, driving in the storm. Tesla delivered 201,250 vehicles in the second quarter of 2021. The enhanced processes enabled them to do this with far less time and staff than needed by traditional dealers.

Tesla is obviously heavily focused on streamlining every process for ordering and taking delivery of new cars. The process was not perfect, but I was quite impressed. Business processes in other industries need to be automated like Tesla is doing. How about healthcare? Enabling process automation is a new business opportunity called Robotic Process Automation.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an emerging, potentially revolutionary technology which allows businesses to streamline operations to free employees from repetitive manual processes, execute transactions more quickly, reduce costs, reduce errors, and improve customer satisfaction. RPA uses business logic and structured input, which would otherwise be manual. RPA can free administrative personnel from menial and boring tasks, and free their time so they can spend more time with customers.

RPA interfaces with existing processes and can send data and messages between multiple IT applications without human interaction. This is why RPA includes the name robotic. Like robotic surgery and 3-D printing, RPA is not a robot, but the automated way in which it works is considered robotic. One financial services company redesigned its claims process by deploying 85 software bots, short for robots, which ran 13 processes and handled 1.5 million requests per year.  The transaction capability the company was able to add with the RPA was equivalent to adding more than 200 full-time employees at approximately 30 percent of the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training human staff.

Some vendors enable enterprises to combine RPA with artificial intelligence technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and speech recognition to take their automation efforts to a higher level with judgment and perceptual capabilities which formerly could only be done by humans. According to Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, automation and artificial intelligence will reduce employee requirements in business service centers by 65 percent.  Gartner says the market for RPA software will top $1 billion by 2021, and 40 percent of large enterprises will have adopted an RPA software tool, up from less than 10 percent in 2018.

RPA can be applied in every industry. Yes, including healthcare. I believe banks implementing RPA to make processes speedier and more accurate will have benefits for consumers but implementing RPA does not bode well for bank employees. RPA has the potential to eliminate many jobs. In the short term, employees will have more time to build customer relationships and work on their personal career development. Banks will attempt to transition as many workers as possible to new jobs. However, in the medium and long term, the RPA software will eliminate jobs which are no longer needed. Forrester Research estimates RPA will cause the loss of 230 million or more jobs worldwide, or approximately 9 percent of the global workforce. The job loss introduces the discussion about universal basic income (UBI), which I wrote about in Robot Attitude: How Robots and Artificial Intelligence Will Make Our Lives Better.

The World Bank Blogs published an article titled “The Fintech revolution: The end of banks as we know them?” FinTech refers to new applications, processes, products, and business models emerging in the financial services industry. FinTech startups are exploiting AI, machine learning, facial recognition, voice recognition, distributed ledger technology (blockchain), and crypto. Predictions of banks becoming extinct may be hyperbole. It reminds me of the famous quote by Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  I believe Fintech is in its infancy. However, RPA and AI have already had a substantial impact on how banks operate. Entrepreneurs and investors will find a multitude of opportunities to automate business processes in every industry for the benefit of consumers and businesses.