Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has long been foreshadowed as the sign of the labour apocalypse. Critics have wailed about the proliferation of superior autonomous robots that could wipe out people’s jobs and radically alter industry, government and the economy. But with RPA’s arrival, are we really in the end-times? Or are those doomsayers missing the point – that an almighty opportunity for efficiency has emerged and could be the next big leap in business productivity. To understand this, we need to examine what the advent of RPA really means, what does it look like and what can we expect.
What is it?
Broadly speaking, RPA refers to the emerging technology base that enables people to create metaphorical robots that can perform activities autonomously. Like a digital assistant, a robot can be programmed to automatically perform the most mundane and repetitive low-value tasks, thus freeing up people to devote more time to profitable activities. For a business, the benefits are twofold:
- Increased productivity from workers who are spending more time on high-value tasks, and
- A reduction in costs attributable to human error, offshoring or legacy process inefficiencies.
A simple concept, it is now only realistically possible thanks to the powerful capabilities of modern RPA technologies such as UiPath.
What does it look like?
RPA involves educating a robot on specific tasks that a human already does. Typical tasks include controlling desktop applications, gathering and manipulating data, entering data into processing systems and saving/sending pieces of work to relevant destinations. Perhaps the best way to understand RPA is to look at an example. Using UiPath, we can create a robot that is capable of utilising Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to locate and read the name and ABN of a supplier from the image of an invoice received via email:
Once it has identified the name and ABN, the robot then opens ABN Lookup in a web browser, and cross checks these details to what is in the Australian business register. If the details do not match, the supplier is flagged and an alert is sent via email to the finance team to review. If the details match, the robot then creates a supplier in the ERP system with these details, and a confirmation notification is sent to the finance team.
This robot is performing a typical administrative process of this business, completing the exact same tasks, with the exact same logic that a human would. Moreover, this robot (and many others) is being centrally managed by the business via the UiPath Orchestrator web application. This means that although the robots are autonomously executing the tasks, the business is still managing the original process, maintaining control and monitoring their operations.
It’s obvious that RPA requires human interaction to operate. Indeed, human involvement in business process is still, and forever will be, a necessity. What RPA is doing is redefining that relationship, such that the strengths of robot and human can be better utilised in business process. For robots, that is the ability to complete a multitude of activities without failure. For people, the ability to interpret information in complex scenarios and make key decisions that a robot is incapable of doing.
What can you expect?
Business is built on process. They are the fundamental procedures by which an organisation is able to function. The strength of RPA is that it does not remove those processes, nor introduce new ones, but rather enhances existing processes through intelligent automation. Put simply, RPA is the natural evolution of business process. It increases efficiency without risking disruption to existing business rhythms.
Areas where RPA can easily transform business process include:
- Communications – A robot can continuously monitor an email inbox, and automatically draft business-approved appropriate email responses depending on the nature of the received email.
- Application processing – When prospective customers fill out an application form, a robot can read the form, pull the relevant data, and send it for further review.
- Statement reconciliation – For the accountant, a robot can read bank statements and prepare an Excel reconciliation that can be saved for review.
- Customer profile update – If a customer sends in a change of address form, a robot can take those details and input them into the CRM and all other systems where details are maintained, thus ensuring information is captured consistently.
- Software installations – When a new hire starts, their IT on-boarding procedure can be automated to install the appropriate applications, and grant the appropriate level of access.
What happens now?
It’s clear that that the ‘robot apocalypse’ prophecy was only partially correct. Where critics have said that intelligent automation will cause industry Armageddon, they have in fact misplaced where that devastation will occur. It is not in people’s jobs and livelihoods, but rather in the businesses who fail to keep up with the change in technology. As more and more businesses implement RPA solutions and extract value, the doomed organisations who resist will likely suffer, and face the ever-increasing challenge to stay relevant in an already unforgiving economic climate.
Expect to see a dramatic uplift in RPA implementation in the next year. Already, resourceful businesses who have implemented RPA solutions are reaping the rewards. As others begin their own RPA journey, more will follow to maintain the pace required for market competitiveness. So the question is, are you ready? Or will you be left behind?
To speak to an expert about how RPA can be implemented in your business, please contact us for more information.