RPA is an imaginative acronym that alludes to robots but the reality is more prosaic. RPA or Robotic Process Automation actually refers to software that automates repetitive tasks performed by office workers. RPA robots are intended to mimic tasks performed by humans on their computers after they are trained or programmed. Training these “bots” involves showing them the steps of a workflow or business process such as opening a website, keying in data and clicking through screens. Once the sequence is recorded, it can be replayed as many times as needed. RPA tools don’t alter your existing IT systems but uses the same systems (e.g. CRM, ECM) that your human colleagues already use.
Where is RPA Used?
This type of “record and replay” approach to automation is not new. But when such UI-centric automation is used in conjunction with capabilities such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR), RPA software becomes a powerful and versatile tool. RPA can be used to automate standardized or rules-driven activities that are currently performed manually. However, if there is an update to the underlying applications (e.g. new version of ECM software released) or a change in the business process, you have to redo the RPA bots.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Software Vendor Landscape. Source: rpa2ai Research
RPA is Different from AI
RPA is not the same as an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system. RPA tools have to be scripted/shown what needs to be done, while AI systems learn by analyzing data and can make recommendations. Also, AI can handle unstructured data while RPA operates on structured data. Having said that, RPA can be a future gateway for AI adoption in the enterprise as vendors add AI modules to RPA products.
RPA Business Case
The business case for RPA centers on enhanced productivity, greater efficiency, and reduced costs. I don’t want to beat around the bush – these benefits result from automating human tasks i.e. using fewer employees to do the same work. Of course, RPA can also free up people to do higher value-add work than highly repetitive tasks. Note that a majority of the organizations are currently only piloting RPA projects and have not reached the level of scale where they begin to make “human worker versus digital robot” kind of choices.
High Level of Customer Interest in RPA
RPA may be a simple technology but has the potential to be a game-changerfor several business processes such as customer support, finance and accounting, HR operations, case management, document processing etc., across a wide range of industries. Not surprising then, that practically all large organizations are considering or implementing RPA. In fact, RPA is one of the fastest growing category (if not the fastest) of enterprise technology – both for RPA software and RPA professional services.
Limited In-house RPA Expertise
As RPA is a relatively new area that is witnessing fast growth, customer organizations do not have a lot of in-house expertise in RPA. Selecting the right partners thus becomes a critical success factor. The RPA marketplace itself is highly dynamic and rapidly evolving. When it comes to professional services, all large consultancies, systems integrators and local players have built large RPA practices. RPA projects are not just technology implementations – they involve process transformation and a lot of change management. Consider these aspects when looking for a services partner.
RPA Product Vendors
You also have a lot of choice when it comes to RPA software vendors. There are horizontal platforms, which are suitable for a wide range of automation use cases across industries (e.g. Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, Kryon, WorkFusion, UiPath) but there are also specialists focusing on specific functions and use cases. There are also traditional BPM vendors who expanded into RPA and services firms who developed their own products. See the accompanying graphic for different categories of vendors and examples.
Selecting RPA Technology
When selecting an RPA vendor, consider the core RPA product functionality and match with your automation use cases. Also evaluate the ecosystem around the product, their services partners and company financials. It is not uncommon to find enterprises using a “best-of-breed” strategy and selecting multiple RPA vendors. Note many vendors have their roots in desktop automation and still figuring out how to make their products true enterprise-grade.
RPA is beginning to make an impact on the automation of office work. Current pilots provide a sneak peek of RPA potential. Choosing the right professional services partners and selecting the right RPA technology are critical success factors for enterprise-wide RPA roll-outs.