Monday, 29 October 2018 10:36

Retailers look to robotics, automation technology to improve productivity: report

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Retailers worldwide are increasingly embracing robotic process automation and other emerging automation technology practices to simplify complex tasks and streamline administrative processes, according to a new report.

Data and analytics company GlobalData now predicts that robotic process automation — in combination with other automation technologies — will become the future for retailers to run their processes more effectively.

According to GlobalData, several jobs in the retail industry are laborious even today, demanding a huge workforce, and giving scope for human errors. And the analytics company says RPA has an appealing value proposition to that end, thanks to its potential to “dramatically reduce efforts and errors made by humans and increase operational efficiency, maximise productivity, advance audit, and facilitate better customer management”.

Brad Shimmin, Service Director for Technology and Software at GlobalData, says: “One noticeable advantage with RPA is that its installation requires no change to the current set up and can interact with the existing underlying systems. It can also be combined with other automation tools to get the most out of them.”

He says that an analysis of GlobalData’s Disruptor Tech Database reveals that the use cases of RPA in retail are not just limited to human resources, supply chain, accounting and finance areas, but also includes processing returns, sales analytics, in-store planning and new product launches.

According to GlobalData, while RPA is a strong automation tool independently, its combination with other technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, big data, and cloud can be immensely powerful.

“Cognitive automation, RPA joining AI and cognitive computing, can help retailers to check inventory and shift their human workforce to some other tasks, such as improving in-store customer experience,” Shimmin says.

“One recent entry into this space is Cognitive Operational Systems, which is developing software robots powered by AI and cognitive technologies for retail stores to advance inventory management. These robots take note of the inventory present on the shelf and send the gathered data to a central server from where the inventory data gets automatically updated 24/7. This helps retailers to reduce cost, minimise stock-outs, free employees to serve customers and increase planogram compliance.”

GlobalData says that according to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation & AI, one software robot can replace the work of two to five full-time employees and costs about one-third the price of an offshore FTE. Overall, RPA can result in 25% to 50% cost savings on its effective deployment.

“However, there are pitfalls of RPA too. An error in the RPA algorithm can lead to adversity within no time. One immediate solution to this can be human intervention on a small sample to check for any errors. The most ideal way could be to have another layer of RPA, which remains a futuristic concept for now,” Shimmin notes.

“RPA is on a robust growth trajectory.  In future, the technology will advance from being a rule-defined technology to play a vital role in intelligent automation. Integrating RPA with other automation tools can yield even better results for retailers. While there are many advantages, a careful approach is advised for the newcomers by learning from the examples of the early adoption.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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