Mar 28th 2018

Help, the robots are coming (to help)!

Science fiction films tend to paint a pretty bleak picture of how the introduction of robots will result in apocalyptic scenarios, with robots taking over. Whilst it’s hard to speculate what robots could do in decades to come, for the foreseeable future it’s safe to say that if a robot utters the words “I’ll be back”, it’ll more likely be in relation to its work in a business’ ‘back’ office, rather than a robot Armageddon.

I’m referring specifically here to the introduction of a technology called Robotics Process Automation (RPA), which involves the use of software bots to automate back and front-end business tasks. RPA uses deep learning technology to generate algorithms that teach software how to follow rules-based human tasks. In other words, it can do repetitive drop-and-drag tasks in the office that humans don’t enjoy doing and is more efficient for a robot to do.

RPA is designed to create an environment where employees aren’t overwhelmed with admin tasks and can focus on decision making and creative tasks. Meanwhile, the software robots are able to perform tasks at a fraction of the time it would take a human, whilst being able to catch any errors and discrepancies.

This technology isn’t a scientific hypothesis, it’s already being used by major brands, such as Lloyds and BMW. According to research from Deloitte, after applying RPA to 14 core processes, a business process outsourcing provider achieved 30 percent cost savings per process, while improving service quality and accuracy.

The inner geek in me finds this technology pretty cool – and it’s not just the notion that I’ll no longer have to do any admin or reporting – it’s because it has the potential to streamline the way businesses operate, on a massive scale. Learning about the technology over the past month or so has got me thinking about how it could automate tasks in PR. Here’s a few examples of how it could streamline some of the every-day tasks in the comms world:

  • Building coverage reports: developing coverage reports, which include details such as URL links, UVPM figures, images, message pull through and sentiment, is a timely task but a crucial necessity for enabling companies to track impactful mentions of their business. Building these reports could be streamlined with introduction of RPA, aggregating all of the necessary information for each piece of coverage in the blink of an eye.
  • Developing targeted new business lists: building targeted new business pitch lists is a task that offers a high amount of reward when approached with the time it deserves. But time is a key factor here, something that many of us in PR have little of. RPA technology could automate the creation of targeted media lists, pulling together a list of prospective targets, for a specific event or technology, enabling us to focus on doing the outbound communications.
  • Helping to create targeted media lists: a similar approach to the above could also be applied to creating media lists for announcements, issues jumps and other media relations activities. RPA could help identify journalists that have written about an issue in the past and automatically build a list of the journalists covering a topic (a task which we have to do every day but does take time).
  • Accounting: as is the case in any business, accounting in the PR industry requires complete precision. PR agencies typically deal with a large volume of companies with varying budgets, so bookkeeping can be a challenge. It is important that comprehensive records of payment terms are stored and that invoices are paid efficiently to keep the books balanced. RPA could automate this accounting process, tracking when invoices are due and any discrepancies in payments.

Of course, the bread and butter of PR, such as client and media relations and content writing, will still be left in our very capable human hands. There are simply some things that robots could not do as well as us mere mortals.

Already working with companies in the RPA space, Babel is well positioned to understand the value of the technology for almost any vertical market. It’s an exciting space that we will be watching intently.