New, Now, and Next: The Inevitability of Robotic Process Automation
The B2B world is buzzing that Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is going to disrupt the way that organizations typically operate. But before we start painting the RPA town red, let’s stop and assess what the numbers and facts say first.
RPA is technology that is relatively new to help companies effectively transfer simplistic tasks from the human workforce to bots. These computer programs replicate the actions of the users, such as copying information, opening files, moving folders, etc. It then imitates those tasks with lower risks, higher efficiency, and decreased costs.
The technology has seen significant growth lately as well, in what it offers for streamlining enterprising operations and lowering costs. Additionally, what robotic process automation tools offer to the B2B market as a whole has spurned a sizable growth for the RPA market. Lead American market research company Forrester predicted that the RPA market will grow to $2.9b by 2020 which is enormous growth compared to 2016’s $250m market.
Let’s see some numbers first!
A comparable company Gartner has similarly reported, “Robotic process automation software revenue grew 63.1% in 2019 to $846 million, making it the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market,” according to one of Gartner’s press releases. “Gartner expected RPA software revenue to reach $1.3b in 2019.” A year later, we witnessed significant growth. Worldwide, RPA software revenue reached $1.58b in 2020, which is 11.9% more. And what about 2021?
It is expected that global RPA revenue will reach $1.89b in the next year.
What do these numbers tell us? It paints a pretty clear picture that the potential and expectations of RPA are enormous. Additionally, the adoption within multiple industries has begun and the market valuation for those industries dealing in RPA is already increasing too.
Breaking it down: What is meant by “robotic process automation”?
RPA is a way to automate business processes. It’s an application of technology that is governed by business logic and structured inputs. A company can configure a “robot” (think: software, not transformer) to capture and interpret applications for manipulating data, triggering responses, processing transactions, and communicating with other digital systems. The use of RPA can range from something as simple as generating an automatic response to an email to deploying thousands of bots that are each programmed to automate individual jobs in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. RPA can automate any kind of process.
In the initial market adoption of robotic process automation, we are seeing mundane tasks being taken care of first as RPA can automate repetitive processes. Financial services firms were at the forefront of RPA adoption, figuring out ways to use software to facilitate business processes without increasing headcount or costs. Typically bots are easy to implement and low-cost without requiring deep systems integration or custom software. These characteristics are vital as organizations seek growth, without adding substantial expenses or friction among workers. When companies are trying to get some breathing room, they should look to RPA to automate the low-value tasks to serve their business better.
There are varying scales of RPA available. You could supercharge automation efforts by implanting cognitive technologies like machine learning (ML), natural language processing, and speech recognition, by then automating higher-order tasks that typically required the judgment and perception abilities of humans.
These kinds of RPA implementations (when it’s 15 to 20 automated steps) are part of a value chain known as intelligent automation (IA). Many experts opine that 100% of enterprises will have IA on their agenda for the next couple of years.
RPA in Practice: How has robotic process automation been implemented?
As constant pressure to increase productivity and reduce costs across most industries persists, many organizations are turning to RPA as a solution. RPA can be deployed on mundane repetitive tasks to free the human workforce to focus on other higher-level projects. Walmart, Deutsche Bank, AT&T, Vanguard, Ernst & Young, Walgreens, Anthem, and American Express Global Business Travel are among the many enterprises adopting RPA.
RPA helps companies from any industry complete a wide variety of tasks. As businesses are making their digital transformation, some implementations prove more universally successful than others. Here are a few of them:
- Help Desk – Being the first line to the user’s technical problems on your company’s website, RPA can help diminish the workload of the human IT team by taking care of repetitive issues with easy solutions. These first-level tech support issues are simple but time-consuming. It’s a perfect task for RPA to manage.
- Data Migration/Entry and Forms Processing – Employees are oftentimes obligated to pull relevant information from legacy systems to keep the data for newer systems. This tedious, manual process is common for human error and is easily translated for RPA systems. Tangible paper forms can be digitally transferred by an RPA solution that reads the forms and grabs the pertinent data.
- Pulling data from multiple websites to find the best deal – In RPA unstructured data finds purpose by scraping data off websites and setting up a comparison application. Whether you’re looking for flights, vehicles, or the best deal for trade show displays, RPA will be able to scan the internet much faster and efficiently than your front desk staff.
- Scheduling Systems – Online patient scheduling for healthcare appointments is a fantastic point for RPA technology enhancement. Gathering unique information per patient like insurance information, location preferences, appointment requests, and more can be a bot’s job within an RPA integration, freeing up staff for more qualitative tasks.
- Call Center Operations – Common customer questions and solutions can be provided to human agents via a dashboard that’s being supported with RPA technology. For instance, when an issue gets escalated to require human staff, RPA can help consolidate all of the information about this unique customer onto a single screen so agents are informed from multiple systems and can provide excellent service.
These examples just scratch the surface of how RPA can greatly impact productivity and efficiency in your company.
Limitations and Benefits: What Does the Future Hold?
Despite all that’s noted above, RPA technology comes with its own set of limitations. First and foremost, RPA won’t improve your processes. While it might be said that it’s not a flaw of the technology itself but more of the company’s systems in place – it must be said clearly: If you deploy RPA into a company with poorly-working processes, you’ll end up multiplying errors instead of fixing them.
Processing unstructured email content and capturing inputs from diverse formats are other issues facing RPA today. On top of that, RPA isn’t inherently a smart system. This means it cannot gain knowledge from previous experiences and therefore is unable to apply it to other dynamically evolving processes. Although there are additional technologies or modules offered by most RPA software packages that can be layered in with RPA to add artificial intelligence, “out of the box” RPA isn’t self-learning.
The benefits, however, far outweigh the limitations. The classic examples of processes ready to be automated are called “swivel chair” work. Meaning a repetitive, manual, soul-crushing, drudge work that requires zero creative input or problem-solving. RPA takes over this more “robotic” work…takes the robots out of the humans…and does it better and faster. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. When RPA is married to AI technology (Artificial Intelligence), it empowers imagination. Since these two are the match made in heaven and they can do magic for your business, consider buying AI add-ons with RPA from the beginning and you will be amazed by the synchronicity of these two.
How can business operations be seamlessly integrated into technology, work processes, and workforce? Here are a few of the top benefits of using RPA+AI
- Automate any business process from start to finish
- Connect front and back-office processes
- Organize and process complex data
- Eliminate errors and exceptions
- Strengthen operational security
- Ensure compliance
- Enhance customer experience
- Liberate employees
Ultimately, there is no magic bullet for implementing robotic process automation but it requires an intelligent automation ethos that must be part of the long-term journey for enterprises. Automation needs to get to an answer — all of the ifs, then, and whats — to complete business processes faster, with better quality, and at scale.