When the Group announced its new strategic priorities, Juan Colombas, Chief Operating Officer, talked about bringing down the Group’s cost base to below £8bn by 2020 and said: “We will do so by maintaining our cost discipline, and by redeploying the efficiency gains we will generate from technology-enabled productivity improvements”.
So what are those “technology-enabled productivity improvement” he’s talking about? The Group Chief Executive talked about “cognitive and machine learning”. One area the Group is spending a lot of money on is ‘Robotic Process Automation’ or RPA.
What Is RPA?
Now before you start thinking the Bank is creating an army of physical robots that will be wondering around Pendeford or Copley, or even Gresham Street performing human tasks that’s for science fiction, at least for the time being. Members may have seen the recent BBC report about ‘Flippy’, the burger-flipping physical robot, that recently began work at a restaurant in Pasadena, Los Angeles. Flippy was going to revolutionise burger flipping and replace human fast food workers. It seems that Flippy flopped because the robot only lasted a day. It couldn’t keep up with demand and humans are now back in the kitchen cooking the burgers. It will be back; say its designers.
Robotic Process Automation is a software-based solution. A ‘robot’ in RPA language is a software-based license. For business processes in the Bank, RPA means configuring the software to do the work previously done by people.
RPA is ideally suited to replace humans for ‘swivel chair’ processes; processes where people take inputs from one set of systems (email for example), process those inputs using agreed rules and then enter the outputs into systems.
RPA In Lloyds Banking Group
Lloyds Banking Group has spent the last year investigating the advantages of RPA, testing the best software systems and training RPA staff ready for its roll out across key areas – Consumer Servicing, Payments, Mortgages and Commercial – this year.
One of the advantages of RPA is that it doesn’t require programming skills. Staff, or developers, can be trained on the ‘Blueprism’ software and become subject matter experts running projects in 6 months. Many of these RPA trained staff have already been embedded back into their business areas, with more to follow over the next few months, and are working on projects that will deliver significant productivity and cost savings for the Bank.
The savings – the better, faster for less approach – can be substantial. In a recent presentation Gerald Pullen, Head of Continuous Improvement and Robotic Process Automation for Lloyds Banking Group, gave the example of a large scale remediation exercise that needed to be done by the Bank by the end of the year. That piece of work requires the building of 80,000 files which, prior to RPA, would have been done by staff building one file per day. According to Mr. Pullen the ‘robot’ will produce one file every 30 minutes and can do that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it doesn’t need toilet breaks or lunch breaks or even holidays. The staff savings on that one process alone are enormous and when you extrapolate that across the 200 processes that the Bank is looking at this year members can get a feel for the scale of the potential staff savings.
Now the Bank will say this new technology will automate repetitive, mundane activities and will free up staff to do more purposeful and fulfilling roles. That’s true for a small number of staff but not for everyone.
We are not naïve. We understand that you can’t stop new technology and that businesses are going to want to exploit that technology to save money. However, what we will be campaigning for both inside and outside of the Bank is for some of the savings from that new technology to be spent training staff to be fit for the New World.
The Group has said that one of its governing objectives is “Helping Britain Prosper” and part of that should be ensuring that those staff who leave are given the skills to enable them to make a positive contribution to the wider economy.
For example, staff who are involved in the kind of work that’s going to disappear over the next 3 years because of RPA should be able to access training courses in the Bank which enable them to acquire the skills of the future. The Blueprism training takes 3-5 weeks to complete. Most of that training is online and there is no reason why that shouldn’t be open to everybody so that those staff that want to acquire the skills of the future can do so.
Lloyds Banking Group might not need those staff but there are lots of companies out there who would benefit from RPA. It would help staff, help other companies, many of which may be LBG customers, and it would help the wider economy.