The way businesses operate and deliver value to customers is continuously changing. More than ever, digital transformation, the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, is a disruptor that takes a leading role in changing companies’ strategic landscape. In several industries, physical robots are doing many of the repetitive and often dangerous physical jobs that humans previously performed. Industrial welding, deep-sea exploration, and disaster response are examples of areas where physical robots are increasingly useful.
The equivalent in the digital world is called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA is a way of automating high-volume, low-complexity, routine processes so that recurring and manual digital work is done by software robots, or bots. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.
RPA is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, a company can configure software, or a “robot,” to capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. RPA evolved from three key technologies: screen scraping, workflow automation, and artificial intelligence.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has the potential to automate entire processes or part of processes that are repetitive, monotonous and occur in high volumes. For example, rather than an accountant manually reconciling two or more sets of data and then researching any differences, RPA technology can automate the reconciliation tasks leaving the accountant with the analytical tasks of researching and understanding the differences. Other examples of automating financial management processes through RPA include repetitive Data Entry of data from one system to another, Email scraping or extraction of information from email attachments, Form Validation processes that help ensure data are correctly input into forms we get from customers RPA scenarios range from something as simple as generating an automatic response to an email to deploying thousands of bots, each programmed to automate jobs in an ERP system.
RPA provides many benefits like reduce the processing time or increase throughput or processing capacity without adding human resources. RPA software performs tasks exactly as defined significantly reducing human error like eliminating all copy-and-paste mistakes that result from entering the same data into multiple systems. Robotic Process Automation can improve efficiencies to deliver more accurate intelligence data and also provide real-time access to financial data with reporting and analytic capabilities.
David Schatsky, a managing director at Deloitte LP, points to a bank’s experience with implementing RPA, in which the bank redesigned its claims process by deploying 85 bots to run 13 processes, handling 1.5 million requests per year. The bank added capacity equivalent to more than 200 full-time employees at approximately 30 percent of the cost of recruiting more staff, Schatsky says. It allows to save thousands of person hours. The extra time would allow staff to work on higher-value activities that often compete with the manual, labor-intensive work that accompanies these seven processes.
Cognitive RPA Enterprises can also supercharge their automation efforts by injecting RPA with cognitive technologies such as ML, speech recognition, and natural language processing, automating higher-order tasks that in the past required the perceptual and judgment capabilities of humans. In a shrinking budget environment, RPA is a tool to “do more with less”. While RPA automates “hand work”, AI assisted Intelligent Automation also automated “head work”.
RPA, IA and AI has spread rapidly in the private sector and many federal and state agencies are currently using these tools in production or as pilots to speed up cycle times reducing the time it takes to perform certain processes, augment the efforts of human workers and provide better outcomes for the business of government.
U.S. Government’s 2020 Budget Encourages Using RPA and AI to Serve Citizens Better. The administration’s budget document calls for “Robotics Process Automation and other emerging technologies [be used] to reduce error, improve compliance, and focus the Federal workforce on higher-value work.” Walmart, Deutsche Bank, AT&T, Vanguard, Ernst & Young, Walgreens, Anthem and American Express Global Business Travel are among the many enterprises adopting RPA.
Walmart CIO Clay Johnson says the retail giant has deployed about 500 bots to automate anything from answering employee questions to retrieving useful information from audit documents. “A lot of those came from people who are tired of the work,” Johnson says.
David Thompson, CIO of American Express Global Business Travel, uses RPA to automate the process for canceling an airline ticket and issuing refunds. Thompson is also looking to use RPA to facilitate automatic rebook recommendations in the event of an airport shutdown, and to automate certain expense management tasks.
“We’ve taken RPA and trained it on how employees do those tasks,” says Thompson, who implemented a similar solution in his prior role as CIO at Western Union. “The list of things we could automate is getting longer and longer.”
According to Deloitte, 53 percent of organisations have started to use RPA to improve efficiency and productivity. RPA adoption is expected to increase to 72 percent in the next two years and, if adoption continues at its current level, it is set to achieve near-universal adoption within the next five years. Some of the key companies offering solutions for the RPA/CRPA market are Automation Anywhere , Blue Prism, Nice Systems, Work Fusion, UiPath , Kryon Systems, Softomotive, and Ipsoft, among others.
As with any automation technology, RPA has the potential to eliminate jobs, Forrester Research estimates that RPA software will threaten the livelihood of 230 million or more knowledge workers, or approximately 9 percent of the global workforce. Workforce reskilling and restructuring into the digital workplace early in the life cycle of RPA technology can help mitigate employee concerns that robots are coming to take their jobs.