Late last year, a new colleague joined us at our credit services department. We weren’t sure how he would cope in his new job, but I have to say that he has turned out to be one hardworking fellow.
Sky, as we have nicknamed him, switches on whenever work comes his way. He pays great attention to detail and never logs onto Facebook at work.
Sky clocks in 20 hours a day, generating daily or monthly credit monitoring reports – one of the most tedious jobs in the department.
Sky is a robot which we helped create.
He is part of a larger Robotic Process Automation (RPA) project that we started rolling out in the bank last year.
The idea behind the project is to create technological tools such as Sky to take over the more mundane jobs that our people had to do.
For example, when it comes to credit monitoring reports, an officer would have to draw from information and data from multiple sources, enter the data onto a report template manually and then submit it to the respective departments that require them.
Generating reports are not the most productive of jobs, nor is it the most enjoyable part of work.
As such, we decided that, as part of our push to embed technology in all aspects of the bank, we started the RPA initiative last year with a team of five people.
This team worked with an external consultant to give birth to Sky.
By taking over the churning of reports, Sky has freed up credit services officers for about two hours more each day, which means they can dedicate more time to other more important work. Sky also eliminates the chance of human errors and also enables better decision making.
The RPA team has also identified eight other processes to automate last year as part of the pilot phase to build up in house competence in leveraging this technology, including data quality monitoring and monitoring employees who do not keep to the required mandatory block leave policy in the bank.
This year, the team aims to automate up to 30 more processes, with a further 56 waiting their turn in the pipeline.
Much more to come
RPA is just the first step of our journey that will bring us far into the digital economy. In fact, RPA is merely an introduction of sorts. The number of processes we can automate is likely to be finite so we expect it to be more or less completed in two years.
The next frontier for us to conquer is artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing. These will help us further digitise our operations and give us the ability to generate critical decision points in real-time.
One stumbling block for automation is the difficulty in processing information from unstructured formats such as this article. Robots are unable to extract useful and actionable information from this.
But with natural language processing, which we are exploring, robots can ‘read’ and process data from unstructured formats. This can then be applied to areas such as documentation review and legal documents.
One instance in which this can be deployed to great effect is in our anti-money laundering efforts. The number of transactions that the bank has to monitor every month are in the millions. At some point, it would no longer be feasible to rely on an army of human analysts.
This is where AI comes in. Coupled with big data, AI can help spot suspicious activities based on certain criteria and flag it to our compliance experts. With continuous guidance, the programme can learn and will be able to do a better job over time.
This is just scratching the surface. AI can be deployed to a whole range of other functions, from chatbots to filtering stock recommendations to assisting fund managers in creating portfolio recommendations for our clients.
Means to an end
What does this all mean for the Bank of Singapore?
We are clear that the path forward lies in the digital realm. We will spare no effort in ensuring that we prepare our organisation, staff and clients for the brave new world of technology-powered decision making.
But even as we use the tools we have created, we must be cognisant of what they can or cannot do. And this is why we remain focused on using technology that enables rather than to simply deploy it because it is fashionable to do so.
Bill Gates has two simple rules that also explain our thinking behind the tools we have created in the bank.
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency,” said Gates. “The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
In other words, technology is not a panacea. If deployed correctly, with the right system in place, technology will do its job well and enhance the efficiency of the organisation. But if the system is not set up correctly in the first place, then technology will simply add further problems to an already faulty system.
Take Sky, for example. It is programmed to do a set of specific tasks in order to generate the credit report. But if the tasks were not clearly mapped out in the first place, or if the data points used were not properly aligned, Sky’s reports would be riddled with errors.
Similarly, modernising and making an organisation digital-ready is not simply just about creating robots and hiring the best programmers. We are laying the ground for the digital future by investing in the infrastructure today, whether it is the backend networks set up or redesigning the office to accommodate the future of work.
The critical part of the organisation is to always remain adaptable in the new digital economy, in which the speed of transformation is unlike any previous era before. We will have to find and use the latest technology to enable us to provide the best service to our clients.
At the same time, we are also clear that whether it is robots, or AI, the objective for using technology is to support our staff and clients. Robots are not here to take over our jobs, but to make it easier for us to work.
Now that credit officers are freed up from the drudgery of generating credit reports, they can focus on doing other parts of their job better, such as making better decisions or raising service levels.
This also means that our clients get access to better-informed decisions, faster data and clearer analyses.
To us, these remain paramount, whether digitised or not.Disclaimer applicable to recommendation
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