Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology with an identity problem. The name is both dry enough to glassy eyes and confusing enough to obscure exactly what it is or could do.
Because of this, few people outside of the IT industry are familiar with the concept. Still, this technology is expected to have a tremendous impact on the working lives of pretty much all office workers, and at least indirectly, everyone else.
According to latest projections from analyst firm Gartner, the RPA market is expected to be worth nearly $ 2 billion this year – and many times that value by the middle of the decade. And by the end of 2022, 90% of large companies will have used the technology in some form.
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Selling is simple: RPA is designed to help companies reduce time and money on repetitive manual tasks and, in turn, free employees from tedious administration. So what’s the catch?
What is RPA
Although RPA has been around for two decades, the industry has seen a surge in recent years, catalyzed by the need to increase efficiency during the pandemic. The largest pure provider is currently UiPath with sales of 607 million US dollars in fiscal year 2021, followed by Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, but other IT companies are also building RPA functions into their products.
Put simply, RPA is about programming software to get tasks done by following a series of instructions. These software units are variously referred to as digital workers, software robots and automation assistants.
“A software bot is configurable software designed to accomplish a task by learning, mimicking, and then executing rule-based business processes. It interacts with other applications and software systems to complete these business processes like a human, ”explains Prince Kohli, CTO at Automation Anywhere.
In theory, RPA allows employees to spend less time looking at data in Excel Spreadsheets, document processing and information retrieval CRM Systems and more time to perform those aspects of their role that computers are not (currently) equipped for. “These bots enable employees to take over the robotics the end their work, ”added Kohli.
While it is easy to see how any organization could benefit from the ability to automate tasks in this way, early adopters have usually been large organizations in sectors that require repetitive management, such as: B. Insurance, utilities, financial services, and healthcare.
More recently, however, with the addition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and low-code solutions, RPA deployments have become easier to configure and smart enough to handle more difficult tasks. Paul Maguire, senior VP EMEA & APAC at software company Appian, says these types of assistive technologies will create new use cases and bring RPA to a wider audience.
“RPA is great for task automation, but not for everything,” he told us. “This is where hyper-automation plays a role by combining technology with people in a single workflow.”
“Implemented on their own, RPA bots can be fast and relatively inexpensive, but they cannot handle exceptions or changes. AI is a powerful tool for collecting and analyzing information. It can also turn unstructured content into structured data for sorting, prioritizing, and suggesting the best next steps for better decisions. “
Nonetheless, RPA companies have some difficulty communicating the benefits of their services to workers and companies that have learned to be appropriately suspicious of grandiose promises.
The most common fear is that RPA will lay off some of the workforce by automating functions currently performed by human workers. Unsurprisingly, RPA vendors say this is a misunderstanding, a product of pop culture depictions of robots and AI, but it could be argued that the vendors themselves are equally to blame. Automation is almost always touted as a way to set employees free to add value in new and creative ways, but the message is rarely more specific.
Future of work
It is generally accepted that increasing automation will change the configuration of the workforce and the daily activities of employees, but the extent of that change is being debated.
The picture of the providers is that RPA will play a supporting role. Rather than eliminating jobs, RPA will take over all of the hideous manual tasks and reduce the error rate by taking human fallibility out of the equation.
“When we hear about robots replacing employees, it’s often about unattended robots. The purpose of an unattended robot is to take over a process and run it on its own, and it doesn’t require a human, ”explained Oded Karev of NICE, the RPA in a. begins call center Context.
“Supervised robots, however, rely on humans to work” with Machine. The robot is installed on the employee’s desktop and becomes something like a virtual assistant to increase performance. “
When asked for specific examples of how RPA will change the lives of employees, the companies we spoke to stated that the technology can be used in any situation where information is isolated or where employees are burdened with computing tasks are.
For example, Gavin Mee, MD Northern Europe at UiPath, says RPA allows it accounting Professionals who spend less time on it accounting and data collection as well as more time for “Deep Analytics and Advisory Activities”. And in a Human resources In context, software bots can take on tasks such as approving annual leave and logging sick days, while employees focus on “building relationships and solving critical problems”.
The customer service sector is also considered to be well equipped to benefit from RPA. The main job of agents is to get in touch with customers, but currently too much time is wasted searching and entering information across multiple different systems, which a software bot can do with relative ease.
While it is plausible that greater efficiency will allow companies to work with leaner teams, leading to downsizing, all of these types of roles are still being filled by human employees. The most significant change will be that your range of tasks will change very drastically.
It’s also true that RPA requires a number of brand new jobs. More IT staff is required for the configuration and maintenance of RPA systems, because it is not that easy to set up a software robot and let it run freely.
Although low-code solutions make it easier for non-technical workers to deploy software robots, additional programming skills are required to configure bots for more complex workloads, monitor deployment performance, and manage errors and anomalies.
One recently opinion poll Conducted by UiPath, suggests that the majority (77%) of RPA professionals expect their companies to hire more developers within the next year. A research paper The World Economic Forum (WEF) came to a similar conclusion that automation will result in a net increase of 58 million jobs, albeit jobs with higher average skill needs.
Despite their own interests, the vendors we surveyed all admit that companies will encounter friction at multiple levels when it comes to deploying RPA on a large scale. And the problem is both cultural and technological.
“One of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of RPA is the misunderstanding or even fear of the technology,” Mee said. “Thanks to Hollywood blockbusters, the word ‘robot’ often conjures up negative images, and when coupled with fears of layoffs, companies can face resistance when embarking on an RPA journey.”
“It’s a natural response; we tend to be afraid of what we don’t know, and a technology that promises to forever revolutionize the way we work will almost inevitably cause confusion and concern at first. “
Mee and others say the solution to this problem is to approach deployment as transparently as possible; Clearly communicate the intentions and ambitions behind the adoption of RPA and the business benefits.
The angle from which companies approach RPA is also important. Many large organizations have a hard time knowing where to start while others are looking for quick wins to meet short-term productivity goals, which can become a problem as deployments scale later. Mixing RPA with other automation technologies like AI and Business Process Management (BPM) only adds complexity.
As emphasized by Optiv Security, there are also cybersecurity risks associated with rushed or superficial RPA rollouts. Ultimately, RPA expands the attack surface and introduces “many ways in and out,” says Optiv, which means that implementation must be careful and thoughtful.
Ultimately, however, the decision for or against RPA can be taken out of the hands of business leaders, which market conditions and changing employee expectations make it virtually mandatory.
“If there is a hesitant leader, I would ask them to consider what their knowledge workers would invent or improve if they had more time and what immediate business value it would create. And whether they are exposed to existential risk if they don’t offer their customers and employees this kind of support and experience, ”says Kohli from Automation Anywhere.
In this scenario, the question is no longer whether it is right to forego RPA in order to maintain workplaces that can be automated, but rather whether companies can afford it.
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