What do the Welsh and process improvement have in common? Gareth Baxendale FBCS CITP FEDIPLeadPract, Head of Technology at the National Institute for Health Research, explains the surprising connection.

Being from Welsh stock, I’m pleased to tell you that besides Welsh cakes and a gift for singing, we also brought you the invention of the = sign. It’s true, or rather I should say ‘mae'n wir’.

Back in 1557, Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde allegedly invented the = symbol after he got fed up with writing ‘is equal to’ at the end of his sums. He is also the proud inventor of the most bonkers word of all time, ‘zenzizenzizenzic’, meaning ‘the eighth power’, or, as he explains, ‘It doeth represent the square of squares squaredly.’. However, that has nothing to do with this article, but I felt compelled to share it with you anyway.

Process improvement is a key activity that forms part of continual improvement for all modern businesses. You may have heard of, or be familiar with, Lean Process Improvement. This is the method of continually reviewing a process and identifying waste or defect areas as well as variations of it. It is an ongoing feedback loop, which improves the business through better and more efficient processes over time.

It is often the case that process improvement is best implemented by focusing on the small things first. Robert Recorde’s invention of the = sign has, quite frankly, saved us all a whole heap of wasted time by conveying repetitive information in a simple and efficient way.

As we look at process improvement in the modern world, we have to consider automation, or, more precisely, robotic process automation (RPA). RPA allows anyone (yes, they are really that simple to use) to configure computer software, systems, or a ‘robot’ to emulate and integrate the actions of a real human operating the system to execute a business process.

In essence, an RPA bot can log into applications, move files and folders around, copy and paste data, fill in various forms, extract data (both structured and semi-structured) from documents, trigger an OCR process, send emails and so on. While many businesses are still recovering from all things GDPR, an RPA bot could be jolly useful in determining how to process consent and revoke requests and actioning these against your various databases and systems. They are ideally suited to those annoying repetitive processes we all know and love.

In a health and care setting, RPA could be used to make the processing of patients more efficient by reducing the number of ‘copy and paste’ or duplication type processes for nurses, doctors and clinical secretaries. This could result in reducing costs and improving levels of care by freeing up staff to focus on the more important things.

RPA is also making use of artificial intelligence (AI), or, more precisely, machine learning (ML). RPA on its own cannot evaluate the process or make cognitive decisions; it essentially remains static until the user decides a way to improve it. With ML, an RPA bot could carry out more intelligent actions, such as eliminating duplicate entries, determining the sentiment of a letter (such as whether it is a complaint or commendation) identifying if something contains sensitive or personal data and so on.

Interestingly, Forrester reports that while valued at only $250 million in 2016, it is estimated that the market for RPA will grow to an astonishing $2.9 billion by 2021.

RPA is being rapidly adopted by businesses the world over to improve their processes and make them more efficient. They are simple to use and appealing to business partners who perhaps do not have an IT background. Removing repetitive processes will free up staff to focus on more important activities that in turn bring greater value. Perhaps you can already think of areas in your own day-to-day business process that could benefit from RPA…

So, the next time you’re writing your sums – spare a thought for the Welsh who helped to improve your process with the simple = sign and, while you’re at it, please do try to use the word ‘zenzizenzizenzic’ in your next business meeting if you can.

Diolch yn fawr iawn.

More from the author

Blog: TheDigitalBrief.com
Twitter: @BaxendaleGareth