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RETAIL’S FUTURE LIES IN ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION

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Guy Kirkwood, Chief Evangelist, UiPath

 

It’s no secret that the retail sector is going through a monumental transformation, whether bricks and mortar or online. Consequently, it has never been more important to take stock of business processes, assess where efficiencies can be made, and determine how technology can be maximised to offer a compelling proposition of both superior customer experience and operational improvement.

The deepening high street crisis is placing huge pressure to keep customers coming through the doors – while increasing back-office efficiencies to cut costs. Digital native retailers like Amazon and Ocado are already using new technologies, such as software robots to automate, to boost productivity and profit. These technologies are also driving the automation of new customer-centric business models and initiatives – data-driven tailored promotions and enhanced customer service being just two examples.

Initiatives like these are raising the bar in terms of increased customer expectations for the wider retail industry and setting new standards for other businesses to meet. This is putting additional strain on companies within the sector that are yet to evolve, forcing them to find ways to survive and hopefully thrive. However, the real solution – implementing game-changing digital transformation strategies – can be a challenge. Many businesses recognise that technology is changing things and want to benefit – but lack the vision, understanding and, crucially, the financial resources required to adopt cutting-edge technology.

 

Automation in the workplace

Big-ticket IT upgrades, replacements and integrations are often risky and prohibitively expensive. However, transformative technology exists that can work within an existing IT ecosystem to create a platform for long-term innovation and success. This is driven by robotic process automation (RPA) and AI. RPA harnesses the power of fast and highly efficient software robots to emulate human employees’ actions within digital systems, in order to execute business processes. Implemented effectively in the retail sector, automation can generate huge productivity benefits across numerous areas – retail supply chain (including forecasting), through the back-office (including invoice processing) and onto the shop floor (including store planning).

RPA is growing fast: Gartner Inc. predicts that by the end of 2022, 85% of large and very large organisations will have adopted some form of RPA. That’s because RPA offers not just productivity benefits, but also a reduction in error rates and huge processing capability. It can also increase job satisfaction, employee wellbeing and employee engagement, boosting worker happiness by freeing up human workers to do more creative work.

When it comes to RPA implementation, there are two main types of software robots available – unattended robots, which automatically complete pre-set tasks without employee intervention and at scale. These automate processes and redeploy staff elsewhere, driving up productivity and delivering immediate ROIIn addition attended robots can be deployed that respond to employee-triggered actions by completing specific processes automatically on request. While unattended robots have an important role to play particularly in automating back-office processes, It is attended robots that can  play an exciting and crucial role in the future for businesses  – not just completing tasks to free man hours up, but also extending the capabilities of human managers. Having the digital fluency to manage blended human and robot teams is one of five ‘super skills’ that will be required for the ‘jobs of the future’ – in other words, the skills needed for success in the evolving workplace.

 

The opportunities of RPA for retail

RPA is of particular relevance in retail, given the level of automation on which the industry depends, and the vast data management required. In a retail environment, software robots can automate essential,  standard, high-volume, repeatable, rule-based processes, from supply chain right through to post purchase.

In the supply chain, software robots are able to analyse and make actions based on data patterns – for example, triggering alerts or processes. This is particularly useful for retailers working with short supply times and especially in today’s heightened customer experience environment.

Back-office tasks ripe for RPA include financial processes – invoice processing, bill checking, and payments and HR process-related functions e.g., onboarding and offboarding employees, a time-consuming process in a sector that relies heavily on seasonal employees.

In the front office, RPA is ideal in call centres, chatbot operation and data-driven behavioural analysis – as well as workforce management, trade promotions and store planning. Studies have reported that automation can generate an accuracy rate of 98% in retail product categorisation, whilst reducing human effort by 80%.

 

RPA and customer satisfaction

The notion of customer experience as a differentiator is not new, but isn’t being taken seriously enough in the current retail climate. UK retailers currently lose £102 billion each year due to poor customer satisfaction – but AI and other new technologies could help improve the consumer experience, increasing repeat business and minimising abandoned orders. Here, RPA can help – automating time- and resource-heavy customer-focused activities, including complaint handling and loyalty scheme management. RPA can ensure customer complaints are addressed quickly and effectively, turning disgruntled customers into brand advocates and improving customer loyalty.

 

RPA can address processing returns and exchanges – time-consuming and costly for retailers and involving several steps in a number of different locations (from warehousing to finance). Handled badly, the returns process can alienate customers forever – so it’s a vital element to get right. Here, RPA can create sales orders for replacement items and process refunds – also taking care of financial accounting and inventory management. In short, RPA can transform the returns process from a financial burden into a streamlined and automated service that builds customer loyalty and gives retailers a competitive advantage. And, when it comes to planning for the future, RPA can extract and analyse marketing and consumer behaviour data, powering future campaigns and decision-making.

 

RPA is the future of retail

In summary, RPA offers retailers the opportunity to automate processes and data management today, while simultaneously positioning them for the future. Early adopters are already reaping the benefits. Those retailers still uncertain of the opportunities that RPA can bring will be assured by the fact that RPA can provide more opportunities than threats for retail workforces. It’s a no-brainer for businesses, too, as the benefits of RPA easily transcend headcount and cost reduction.

 

It’s time for retailers to welcome the (software) robots.

 

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Business

SMART WEARABLES IN HEALTH TECHNOLOGY

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Gavin Bashar, UK managing director at Tunstall Healthcare, discusses smart wearables in health and social care, the benefits, and what the future holds.

For many years, technology has been integrated into every sector in the economy, from banking to shopping, to enhance the experience of customers.

However, health and social care services have fallen behind in terms of technology adoption and innovation, for reasons including fragmented structures, limited resources, and reluctance to change.

Yet person-centred technology has the power to transform lives, not only enabling the ongoing delivery of support services to vulnerable people, but reshaping the health and social care sector as a whole.

Technology-enabled health and care is the service of the future and the ongoing and unprecedented rapid acceleration in the adoption of care and health technology has demonstrated the numerous benefits in practice.

 

Why wearable technology?

Wearable technology enriches the lives of a range of cohorts, including people living with long term conditions such as dementia, and connects vulnerable individuals to key stakeholders such as clinicians and family members.

The better application of technology and wearable devices can deliver significant benefits including improved patient outcomes and service-user experiences, a reduction in the strain on staff and carers, and potential cost savings or avoidance.

Wearable devices and the systems they’re linked to use wireless and digital technology to enable support services to be efficient, flexible, responsive, and tailored to the individual. The unobtrusive devices also ensure that care delivery is discreet and won’t interrupt the daily life of service users.

Proactive healthcare is also easier thanks to wearable technology. Service users become much more engaged with their own health and have greater opportunity to develop a proactive approach to their health monitoring, rather than reacting. Technology can be used to enable intervention at an early stage by identifying irregularities before they become more significant health or care issues which require expensive care and treatment.

There is significant evidence that wearable technology offers users greater choice in terms of the care they receive and prevents incidents in the first place, by recognising an emergency as soon as it occurs. Community alarms and telecare services in particular are effective methods of signposting to clinicians and additional services when a user requires care, and this has been particularly important during the pandemic.

 

Wearables in a home and residential care setting

When providers are presented with unique opportunities to drive the adoption of digital health solutions such as wearables, there must be a focus on designing holistic services which fit seamlessly into the user’s life, work with clinical practices, and ensure any data that is collected is stored securely.

There is a huge range of wearable technology and devices available which perform a number of functions and can therefore be tailored to suit the needs of an individual and their stakeholders, such as carers and clinicians.

Small, discreet pendants available on the market can raise alarm calls in emergencies, and protect users living independently at home or in group living environments. Features can include integrated alarm buttons, LEDs for visual reassurance that a button has been pressed, easy to wear options, and auto low battery monitoring and alerts.

Falls are the main reason that older people are taken to hospital and unaddressed fall hazards in the home are estimated to cost the NHS over £430 million1. Smart wearables use advanced technology to allow users to raise an alarm from anywhere in their home or care setting if they are in difficulty. Some devices can also automatically raise an alert if a fall is detected.

This technology offers confidence to individuals who are at risk of falling, such as people with limited mobility, the elderly, and people with long-term conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Wearable technology not only benefits vulnerable individuals living at home, but also those in residential care settings and their carers. Nurse call systems which are integrated with smart wearables can be personalised to ensure individual safety with minimal disruption to other care home residents. It also respects dignity while improving management insights, workflow efficiencies, staff morale, and care quality.

Devices can also be worn which protect users when away from home, automatically detecting falls, offering an SOS function and providing the user’s location.

 

The benefits of managed technology and smart wearables

Technology can require equipment from a range of manufacturers. Identifying, purchasing and managing devices from multiple sources can prove challenging and resource intensive for local authority community alarm centres.

Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) has a managed healthcare service which includes home units, telecare sensors and wearable devices which are all tailored to the needs of individual service users.

All connections are monitored and referrals are made to the NCC Responder team, nominated contacts or the emergency services, as appropriate. NCC also has Reablement Assessment flats with telecare in place to support people leaving hospital, helping them to increase wellbeing and regain skills to enable them to return home.

Between October 2019 and December 2020, significant benefits and improved outcomes have been observed. Over 280 cases where a high and immediate risk of admission to residential care were avoided, and over 650 cases which required additional community care costs were avoided.

In total, savings of over £2.2 million have been achieved after additional service costs, costs of homecare for people diverted from residential care, and loss of client contributions have been deducted.

 

The next generation of wearable technology

The deployment of smart technology, including wearable devices, enables vulnerable people to live safely and independently for as long as possible. However as demands change, the care journey is now evolving rapidly and healthcare services must adapt accordingly.

We’re beginning to see the next generation of predictive care technology and smart wearable devices, and over the next few years this will encompass integration that enables diverse and scalable models of health and social care. Using AI and taking data-driven insight from multiple sources, providers will use this next generation of solutions to optimise Population Health Management programmes by providing personalised and anticipatory care.

Smart wearables in health and social care are designed to improve quality of life and empower individuals to take control of their health, while supporting the NHS and additional stakeholders by reducing the number of required GP visits, ambulance callouts, hospital admissions, and demand for local authority funded residential care

For more information on how wearable technology can support the ongoing delivery of proactive and effective support, please visit www.tunstall.co.uk

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Finance

TRENDS IN FINTECH IN 2022: FROM ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO FINANCIAL WELLNESS

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By Jayne Zhang, Lead Digital Transformation and Commercialisation consultant, FPT Software

 

The financial services industry has been pivoting towards digital transformation for the last decade or so.  The onset of COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the importance of this transformation as the demand for digital solutions has rapidly grown.  The rise of fintechs and brands has also fostered the maturing digital landscape and changed customer expectations.

As competition increases, it’s no longer enough to only offer financial products through digital channels. Surveys show that the main drivers for customer attrition are poor banking apps and a lack of digital services, so the financial services industry needs to embrace new strategies and technologies with a renewed focus on the customer context (experience and engagement) and provide enhanced digital experiences to retain and acquire new customers.  Here are seven trend predictions for 2022 and beyond:

Increased investments in digital platforms, composable banking options and innovation

According to Forrester Research, in 2022, it’s predicted that a quarter of banks will increase their tech spending by 10% or more. Banks must invest in and build an infrastructure that facilitates their digital transformation and helps them provide an exceptional customer experience with digital intelligence and automated decisioning. This includes increased investment into the adoption of the micro-service and API layers that allow for seamless integration into digital platforms and ecosystems.

Creating a unified customer experience and journey

The digital experience is now the primary driver of customer attrition and it’s a major factor for consumers when it comes to choosing a bank. To stay competitive, banks need to deliver an attractive and comprehensive digital experience that works in parallel with their physical branch and call centre services. Business must look at the entire customer journey from end to end – from fast and seamless onboarding to real-time notifications with personal and relevant messaging, offering products relevant to the customer life cycle, well integrated self-service tools, enhanced security and fraud protection, and also offer insights for customers.

Increased focus on creating an AI structure which enables contextual and connected decision making

In order to leverage the digital decision platforms and logic that helps with decision making, there must be an increased focus on data-driven decision intelligence technologies, such as machine learning and AI. Many institutions are moving to a hybrid human and AI decision-making model to compose a full view of the customer, which enables customer life cycle management with intelligent, relevant and timely decisions. According to the International Data Corporation, global spending on AI systems is forecast to jump from $85.3 billion in 2021 to more than $204 billion in 2025. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the 2021-2025 period will be 24.5%.

The power of data

To leverage the vast amount of data available, companies must be able to define, map, analyse, and use this data to create customised digital experiences with personal and relevant messaging and offers that customers want. Data responsibility will become increasingly important with the rise of data aggregation.  Banks must balance the power of data with responsible AI, keeping in mind the importance of ethics, transparency, and security. Consumers are also more data aware with a maturing understanding of how their data could be exposed and used.  This causes them to be more risk averse when it comes to giving out their data without a clear return.  Banks will need to provide data value such as data insights for enhanced risk assessment or fraud protection, to empower customers with their own data, which in turn could give them better engagement and personalisation.

Financial wellness and education – humanising the digital experience and rethinking what it means to be customer-centric

A bank’s bottom line relies on the financial wellness of its customers, thus a focus on the financial health of customer should be a primary strategic goal. Having access to financial services does not necessarily mean they’re financially healthy. The younger generations may be more digitally savvy, but they aren’t financially savvy. What this means for banks is that there’s a renewed need to understand their customers’ life cycles, and their journey, be able to empathise with them, anticipate their needs, and deliver products/services to help them improve their financial wellbeing at the point of need – allowing their customers to feel financially secure. Studies show that putting their customers’ financial wellness at the centre will help banks grow profitable portfolios and increase long-term shareholder value.

Expand their line-up of sustainable finance products

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are gaining importance. Some regulators are proposing that climate reporting by banks be made mandatory. The ESG transition will need banks to balance business while embracing and implementing ESG-related policies and standards. Financial services firms will be keen to accelerate their speed to market for ESG products and services, such as green loans and mortgages, and checking accounts with sustainability and carbon-tracking features.

Open banking and embedded finance

With regulators in the EU and UK proposing measures to extend data sharing principles across financial and nonfinancial products, 2022 will see a growing number of banks experimenting and pivoting their business models toward a more open, collaborative platform approach. Leveraging this open-banking connectivity and focusing their efforts on delivering select capabilities as a service, powering the growth of embedded finance. This all goes back to the focus on the customer, and being able to provide financial products, features, services and education at the point of the customer need, and not through a separate journey.

 

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