RPA – useful for business, or more trouble than it’s worth?

In certain industries - or even specific departments within any enterprise organization - Robotic Process Automation can free employees from repetitive, manual tasks so they can focus on more important, higher-value work. But is it worth the investment as we march down the inevitable road to full-blown artificial intelligence?

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From machine learning to artificial intelligence, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is gaining popularity for helping automate certain internal business processes, increasing efficiency and freeing up corporate workers so they can focus on higher-value work.  

RPA refers to software programs that can eliminate or streamline tedious, repetitive or manual labor tasks – such as your typical data entry work, to pick one example. While RPA uses robots that can be programmed to effectively complete a task, these tools don’t “learn” the way they do in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning, where they’re trained to make judgments about future outputs. In other words, RPA is not exactly full-blown IA (intelligent automation). But the benefits of automating repetitive, manual tasks to free employees to focus on more important work should be obvious...right?

The term RPA was first coined in 2012 by Pat Geary, Chief Evangelist at Blue Prism, setting the UK-based company to be one of the front runners in this field. The company works with financial services firms, organizations that do business processing outsourcing (BPO), mobile phone companies and others. 

According to a study conducted by Gartner in July, 2019, “RPA is the fastest-growing software subsegment officially tracked by Gartner, with year-over-year growth of more than 63% in 2018.”  

In light of this fast-growing trend, we hosted a recent #IDGTECHtalk Twitter chat with Blue Prism to determine how other industries are taking advantage of this technology. Below are some of the highlights from our roundtable discussion:  

So... should I even care about RPA? 

If you are in the sweet spot for #RPA, then it must be considered. Those areas are: to address labor resource challenges & reduce costs, to provide accurate & consistent processes, and to connect multiple systems. #IDGTECHtalk 

Ben (@benrothke) September 12, 2019 

We should care about robots and the people processes that employ them in a useful fashion. Business value comes from people, process and technology... so the interfaces between people and robots are crucial. #IDGTechTalk 

Brent (@DrBKirkpatrick) September 12, 2019 

Pat Geary, the inventor of the term RPA, noted that the technology is a significant part of digital transformation and the democratization of IT, bringing enterprise strength automation software into the hands of the business user.  

How are companies using RPA now? 

We are still in early days of #RPA when we are looking at input factors of external process and speeding if-then executionof existing software. #insurance and #Service call operations, #manufacturing carry-forward ops. Need more experience and hybrid with ML. #IDGtechtalk 

Wayne (@DigitalSecArch) September 12, 2019 

Thousands of mission critical business process across all functions are being automated in myriad industries, including customer-facing processes. This usually results in lowering costs, driving new product introduction and innovation. 

How can digital transformation be accelerated with RPA? 

We carefully select the right applications, the right algorithms, the right talent, and the right robots. Work hard. Evaluate. Rinse, wash and repeat. #IDGTechTalk 

Brent (@DrBKirkpatrick) September 12, 2019 

Pat touched on a great point: Accelerating can be achieved by using a robotic operating model together with the platform AND an enterprise vision for #digitaltransformation. There’s no point in having one without the other. #IDGTECHTalk #RPA 

Once a company decides to utilize RPA, how quickly can it be implemented? 

Short, sweet, and to the point:

You can prototype potential processes very quickly, but #RPA MUST be treated as a platform and requires a degree of rigor and planning. That said, it should be measured in weeks and months and not months and years (like a traditional IT implementation). #IDGTECHTalk  

Pat (@EvangelistBlue) September 12, 2019 

How does RPA measure up in the cybersecurity realm? 

With any technology, security absolutely needs to be a main priority. 

Depends on the platform to some extent. The #RPA filling in forms should not provide data just because field names align. It should always be intentional. Encryption-in-transit rules must be followed. And, it should detect failures and respond gracefully... #idgtechtalk 

Chris (@CPetersen_CS) September 12, 2019 

What are your thoughts on RPA? Could it be useful for businesses or more trouble than it’s worth? 

Let us know via Twitter. And as always, please join us every other Thursday at 12pm ET for the #IDGTECHtalk.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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