Robotic process automation (RPA) is becoming a mainstream topic at leading corporations. I have seen a massive uptick in corporate strategy work in this area.
Software robots — Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, IBM Watson, Google DeepMind, drones, and driverless cars — are now mainstream. What most people are not aware of the rapidly advancing area of enterprise robots to create a “virtual FTE workforce” and transform business processes by enabling automation of manual, rules based, back office administrative processes.
This emerging area is called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). According to Blue Prism, “Robotic automation refers to a style of automation where a machine, or computer, mimics a human’s action in completing rules based tasks.”
RPA is essentially the novel application of analytics, machine learning and rules based software to capture and interpret existing data input streams for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other enterprise applications.
RPA is not a question of “if” anymore but a question of “when.” This is truly the next frontier of business process automation and enterprise cognitive computing.
Industrial robots are remaking the manufacturing industry by creating higher production rates and improved quality, RPA “analytics robots” are revolutionizing the way we think about and administer business processes (e.g. customer service), workflow processes (e.g., order to cash), IT support processes (e.g., auditing and monitoring), and back-office work (e.g., data entry).
As cognitive computing slowly but surely takes off, RPA is going to impact outsourcers (e.g., call center agents) and labor intensive white collar jobs (e.g., compliance monitoring) in a big way over the next decade. Any company that uses labor on a large scale for general knowledge process work, where workers are performing high-volume, highly transactional process functions, will save money and time with robotic process automation software.
Business Impact of Robotic Process Automation
RPA is already being applied to a wide range of industries to improve speed, quality and consistency of service delivery. Virtual FTE robots can:
- Learn from natural language interactions in order to solve customer problems and respond easily to a wide range of queries
- Automate data and rules intensive activities like HR, procurement, invoicing, billing. Now it is possible to create complex cross-enterprise apps (xapps or composite apps) like order-to-cash automation.
- Orchestrates other application software apps through the existing APIs or user interface
Workflow and Process Automation
Clerical labor is replaced by software. Best projects for robot automation are bulk repetitive rules based procedures. Process automation can expedite back-office tasks in finance, procurement, supply chain management, accounting, customer service and human resources, including data entry, purchase order issuing, creation of online access credentials, or business processes that require access to multiple existing systems.
Technologies like presentation-layer BPM software – a technology that mimics the steps of a rules-based, non-subjective process without compromising the existing IT architecture – are able to consistently carry out prescribed functions and easily scale up or down to meet demand.
Automated Agents and Assistants
Large call centers are going to get restructured. As in voice recognition software, IVR or automated online assistants, developments in how machines process natural language, retrieve information and structure basic content mean that RPA can provide answers to self-service customers without human intervention. I can see demand reducing systematically for armies of low-cost labor offshore.
Monitoring Support and Management
‘Human only’ processes will reduce as machine learning and data-driven decision making evolve further. Activity, fraud and risk monitoring is going thru some changes. Automated processes in the remote management of IT logs, audit trails, security, and other risk related areas can consistently monitored, flagged and exception handled faster. In IT function specifically, RPA can improve service desk operations and the monitoring of network devices.
The robots are coming! Enhanced scalability, greater accuracy, improved compliance and reduced cycle times to deploy — as these improve, RPA adoption will take off.
Analytics enabled Robotic process automation (RPA) will drive improvements in accuracy and cycle time and increased productivity in transaction processing (e.g., healthcare claims processing) while it elevates the nature of work by removing people from dull, repetitive tasks.
RPA is in early days. So, sometimes the hype can get ahead of the reality. But this is an area where I am going to be digging deeper in subsequent blog posts.