After hearing a lot of buzz about this concept in AI, we decided to see what’s next for robotic process automation. The promise of the technology is that it can automate processes that employees are doing manually, saving your employees’ time and potentially reducing operational costs. While robotic process automation (RPA) interest has been high for a while, actual adoption is now catching up and will only continue to grow in the future. Organizations are understanding the power of process automation, so in turn, more industries are expected to deploy more RPA bots to eliminate manual repetitive actions performed by employees.
RPA software is en route to becoming a billion-dollar category in 2020. Last year, Gartner projected that spending on RPA software was expected to hit $1.3 billion. However, there are still some growing pains to address with RPA and is not exactly a 100 percent perfect, but it fits right in with the current trends in cloud computing toward optimization. And, since, we’re all about saving time and money – let’s recap on this trend to see how it can help to do these things.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
To recount, RPA, whether it’s called “intelligent automation” or “cognitive automation” in the future, is a way to automate business processes by creating software robots paired with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to perform manual and mundane work-tasks. It allows users to configure within an application and gives them the capability to handle a variety of repetitive tasks by processing, employing, generating and communicating information automatically. For example, you might program RPA bots to do first-level customer support tasks by searching for answers; copy and paste data from one system to another for invoicing or expense management or issue refunds. This video from IBM shows an example in action.
RPA software is not part of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Instead, it sits on top of it, enabling a company to implement the technology quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, RPA tools can be trained to make judgments about future outputs. Many users appreciate its non-intrusive nature and the ability to integrate within infrastructures without causing disruption to systems already in place.
How can you use Robotic Process Automation?
RPA technology can help organizations on their digital transformation journeys by:
- Enabling better customer service.
- Ensuring business operations and processes comply with regulations and standards.
- Allowing processes to be completed much more rapidly.
- Providing improved efficiency by digitizing and auditing process data.
- Creating cost savings for manual and repetitive tasks.
- Enabling employees to be more productive.
Companies like Walmart, AT&T, and Walgreens are adopting the use of RPA. Clay Johnson, the CIO of Walmart, says they use RPA bots to automate pretty much anything from answering employee questions to retrieving useful information from audit documents. The CIO of American Express Global Business Travel, David Thompson, says they implement the use of RPA to automate the process for canceling an airline ticket and issuing refunds. In addition, Thompson is looking to use RPA to facilitate automatic rebooking recommendations, and to automate certain expense management tasks in the company.
But more specific to cloud computing and IT, one great application for RPA is in automated software testing. If testing involves multiple applications and monotonous work, RPA can replace workers’ time spent testing. Automated tests can run repeatedly at any time of day. This approach fits in with continuous testing as well as continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) software development practices. Additionally, RPA can be used to automate processes in monolithic legacy systems that are not worth developers’ time to update, to bring automation while work on newer microservices systems is in progress.
Is Robotic Process Automation the Best Way to Automate Cost Control?
A study found that not all automation is achievable with RPA. In the study, they conclude that only three percent of organizations have managed to scale RPA to a high level. Additionally, Gartner placed RPA tools at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in their Hype Cycle guide for artificial intelligence – another vote for more buzz than potential. In reality, it is only as efficient as the person configuring the automation flow and organizations that have overly idealized expectations of the technology’s capabilities. Those that don’t have a solid grasp of their own processes may find it difficult to find the right tool to automate jobs.
However, RPA is expected to deliver tangible results to organizations that make automation a key component of their digital transformation as the collaboration between digital workers and human talent become more efficiently aligned in the future.
So can it save you time and money? If employees at your company are spending a large percentage of their time on repetitive tasks that require little to no decision making, then yes, it probably can. It’s also important because it will free up developer time that is spent on automatable tasks, like scripting, so they can focus on creating value for your business.
For complex and long-term automation, though, purpose-built software is a better solution. If there is already a solution to your automation needs on the market, it will probably serve you better than RPA because there won’t be an upfront period needed to program bots, you won’t need to make frequent changes to your processes like many RPA bots will require, and it’s a better solution for the long run.