Measuring up: robotic process automation versus real-time decision making


Editor's note: Tiffany Carpenter, Head of Customer Intelligence, SAS UK & Ireland sizes up the benefits of the two technologies and offers up a solution to businesses wanting the best of both.

With constant pressure on profit margins, organisations need to strike a balance between improving cost efficiencies and customer satisfaction. This has led to a growing interest in the rapidly advancing area of robots to create a virtual workforce; transforming business processes by automating manual, rules-based, back-office administrative processes. This also has benefits for future workers – there’s now a strong argument for reducing workers’ pension age as a result of boosting UK productivity through artificial intelligence (AI).

The benefits of robotic process automation

The re-engineering of processes through automation, known as robotic process automation (RPA), is being applied to a wide range of industries to improve speed, quality and consistency of service delivery.

There’s no question that RPA technology provides a number of straightforward and powerful business benefits. It can automate repetitive tasks that are often undertaken by humans, significantly cutting costs, while improving the consistency and quality of the process.

RPA is best used on manual, high-volume, repetitive and rule-based processes involving structured data, such as transaction processing. The financial services sector, for example, has seen higher rates of adoption than other industries.

Often people use the terms RPA and AI interchangeably, but this is incorrect and leads to confusion. There is a clear need for clarity and awareness around the terms and technologies themselves, and how they can benefit businesses. After all, while RPA is an advanced technology, it does not have self-learning capabilities.

For example, an RPA robot could be tasked with monitoring what is happening on an advisor’s desktop. It can register where they clicked, what systems they accessed, what they did next. Based on this data, the system can recognise and mimic the processes carried out by humans – along with their mistakes.

The difference is that the robots designed for RPA are not ‘smart’ or self-learning. They are limited to the process they have been assigned (and how they have been programmed to carry it out) and their job is to repeat that process over and over, rather than autonomously refine and improve it.

RPA should be your approach when you have rules-based processes where compliance to the process and accuracy are the most critical factors. However, where there is any ambiguity, usually when the data is unstructured (such as customer emails), where there are significantly large amounts of data, or where you want to personalise the outputs for each customer, then analytics and AI are the appropriate technologies to use. They can manage that variability and, most importantly, determine the most profitable outcome for the business.

Real-time decision making using AI

A system that is capable of managing and executing real-time decisions through AI is the best option for automating complex decision processes. Using advanced analytics and machine learning allows such systems to become intelligent and constantly adapt and learn from new, contextual data.

Consider RPA as an answer to integrating processes – taking the pain away from businesses and workers by automating the much-needed, but fairly manual, repetitive input, cut-and-paste work. A step up from RPA is a real-time decision-making system, applying AI-based analytical decision-making to highly complex problems in real time. For insurance providers, this reduces decision time that highly skilled employees need for activities such as underwriting, or to improve the accuracy of fairly skilled workers who make complex decisions around activities such as claims, for example.

For investment firms, real-time decision making is able to analyse thousands of business inputs, constraints and options and arbitrate between multiple internal targets and trading decisions. It can apply an analytical constraint-based optimisation approach to models across thousands of possible actions – whether it be specific content, an offer, a price, sort order, or a recommendation – and determine the best outcomes for the organisation. It can then qualify those decisions against certain criteria from a profitability, risk or revenue perspective. Using a built-in decision-making engine means you can optimise decisions based on contextual data. All this can be done in real time, or at the moment a customer is interacting with you.

Permanent TSB real-time credit scoring

Permanent TSB, a leading Irish retail bank, is using real-time decision making to make quicker and more efficient decisions about customer credit. Analysing this data in means the bank can make accurate and timely decisions that reflect each customer's circumstances. It has saved time in the develop-and-deploy process. Also, it has given the bank more time to enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of credit models. Permanent TSB has also seen improved credit decision-making overall, resulting in increased profitability and reduced risk.

Lessons learned from other systems

A similar scenario happened with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Yes, effective ERP implementations enhanced the competitiveness of many companies, but a greater number of companies found the experience more of a nightmare. The rules-based approach meant that once implemented, most ERP system were unable to adapt to ever-changing organisational processes and thousands of exceptions to the process without a constant rewriting of rules and links.

Introducing ‘intelligent analytical automation’

Whilst ‘intelligent’ solutions like those that can perform real-time decision-making are very different to RPA solutions, it’s clear that the two technologies complement one another. By combining RPA with intelligent AI technologies, organisations can take advantage of ‘intelligent analytical automation’. This will enable businesses to complete repetitive, rule-based processes as well as deliver bottom line benefits through automated complex decision-making capabilities that previously needed human labour.

Intelligent automation also reduces reliance on human intervention for complex decisions. This significantly increases productivity and efficacy, as well as allowing for faster, more cost-effective business decisions and actions in real time. RPA delivers benefits around cost reduction and process consistency.

Think about the additional percentage improvement in risk accuracy, margin, churn and customer lifetime value that could be delivered by automating complex decisions. It’s a no-brainer!

Find out more on what organisations need to do to create real-time customer engagement.


About Author

Tiffany Carpenter

Head of Customer Intelligence, SAS UK & Ireland

Tiffany has been helping organisations achieve bottom line results from their customer and marketing strategies for over 20 years. She specialises in helping companies gain deeper insight into their customers’ buying habits, preferences and lifestyles, social relationships and influences on purchase behaviour and loyalty - and using this insight to make smarter, data-driven decisions. Every customer journey is unique and every touch point is an opportunity to nurture customer relationships and deepen customer intimacy. Tiffany helps organisations get in sync with each customer's journey – no matter how fragmented for a clear competitive advantage and a bigger, better ROI.


  1. While it’s true that some activities previously executed by company employees can be automated these days with RPA, that certainly does not mean that human staff will not have to continue making decisions. Also, even with the dawning of cognitive technologies, which point to a more human-like functioning of robots, artificial intelligence tools still need programming by humans. Simply, software robots cannot function independently of humans and they are still not able to carry out the more complex human thinking processes. Human employees will be supplemented by the introduction of Robotic Process Automation technologies — to support staff members’ performance rather than supplanting them.

  2. Through the implementation of automation, employees are engaging in more valuable jobs that leverage their human decision-making ability that must be balanced with the automation process. Abilities such as creativity, complex decision making, or communication skills, and, consequently, their level of job satisfaction increases. I agree that it has the overall benefits to improve employees’ workflows and the company's services as well.

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