Now, more than ever, organizations are being forced towards automation tools in order to fill in the gaps that are inevitably left with rapid digital transformation. As a result, the use of robotic process automation (RPA) is expanding rapidly as organizations look for ways to speed processes that will enable workers to become more productive. It is also clear that the better these processes, the better the experience will be for companies, or individuals, doing business with your organization.
RPA in the Workplace
According to the recently released Gartner Magic Quadrant for RPA (subscription required), Gartner defines RPA as a combination of user interface (UI) interactions and APIs to integrate and perform data transcription work between different enterprise and productivity applications. An RPA tool, it explains, operates by deploying a software script that emulates a human process/task within a workflow. It also should contain:
- Low-code capabilities to build automation scripts
- Integration with enterprise applications
- Orchestration and administration including configuration, monitoring and security
There were 16 companies in this year’s quadrant, with the 10 largest accounting for account over 70% of the market. Gartner also suggests that while many areas of IT have been impacted negatively by the current COVID-19 pandemic, the likelihood of an economic downturn because of the health crisis could well drive further adoption of RPA. The business disruption and new normal of remote working induced by COVID-19 are prompting customers to have a deeper look into RPA as a tactical automation option, to digitize paper-based, routine human processes.
However, COVID-19 did not create the market. It already grew 63.1% in 2018 and 62.9% in 2019, compared with the 13.5% and 11.5% growth, respectively, of the overall enterprise software market, and was likely to continue growing without or without a crisis.
This is to be expected. RPA is a key part of digital transformation and digital transformation strategies as it offers five different advantages that organizations are looking to exploit as they build strategies to manage the sudden move to remote workplaces.
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1. Process Speed
Dave Anderson is director of technology at Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance. He says that that RPA enables one crucial quality of digital transformation above all else, notably speed. Many programmers, when dealing with older software systems, may decide that a system requires a rewrite. System upgrades are complicated, time-consuming and expensive.
RPA can unlock value in older systems by providing new interfaces. At its core, RPA helps improve and optimize business process. Liberty Mutual uses RPA selectively to automate repetitive flows and link disparate systems together. An adjacent benefit is the new flow will generate additional data, data provides insights and insights allow us to use AI services to improve further and add value to the business.
Although it can be a useful approach, there is a word of caution regarding overuse. “If applied extensively, value may be unlocked, but complex flows may impact future projects and reduce agility,” Anderson said. RPA is most effective in a bounded context when a rewrite or migration is costly. Adjacent systems may be ready for a rewrite which can happen alongside an RPA effort and, potentially, integrate.” Like all technology, RPA is not the answer to everything but can realize significant value in your transformation.
2. Empowering Workers
San Francisco-based Tonkean is a human-centric robotics process automation platform. Its co-founder Sagi Eliyahu told us that he has spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make automation work holistically and as part of an enterprise-wide infrastructure.
He believes that process automation will only be transformative insofar as it directly empowers the people who work at your company. He says that, in this respect, automation technology will play a significant role in designing the future of work by changing the way employees spend their time and how business leaders scale their operations.
He warns, however, that automation software will be of minimal value if implemented hastily. "Whether you've been planning digital transformation for a while, or are responding in part due to COVID-19, the answer is not simply to automate every task you can," he said. “Process automation used without internal governance can lead to data corruption, delays and support issues."
3. Dynamic Processes
He also argues that RPA that's focused only at the task-level can end up shifting bottlenecks to another area of the process, which has the effect of slowing down the employees that it should be empowering.
Instead, automation solutions will be most transformative if they can adapt to dynamic processes and keep humans in the loop. Process automation can do more than just automate individual tasks, but optimize workflows that include human input for decisions. That will save employees the most time and enable them to focus on the things they’re best at.
4. Business Transformation
With transformation fatigue setting in across many enterprises after a decade of focus and a graveyard of stalled initiatives, automation is the new darling of technology executives trying to tackle the ongoing shift to a digital-first environment, according to Jon Knisley, principal for automation and process excellence for San Francisco-based FortressIQ, which develops a process discovery platform. But automation, he said, is a means to an end and the target state remains business transformation.
RPA is a core component of any organization’s intelligent automation tech stack. Coupled with DPA, process intelligence, AI and analytics solutions, it enables rapid end-to-end business process automation and accelerates transformation. Employees are relieved of tedious, low-value, error-prone tasks and customers benefit from a more friction-less experience.
But, the consequences of automating with RPA cannot be overlooked. No doubt it is fast, efficient and less expensive than other methods. At same time, RPA does not address the underlying issue of technology debt and actually contributes to it. “Think of it as a band-aid to get a few more years out of legacy system that you know needs to be replaced eventually to achieve your transformation objectives,” he said.
5. Repetitive Tasks
Yaniv Masjedi is CMO at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Nextiva, telecommunications enterprise with over 1,000 employees. He pointed out that the whole idea of digital transformation is to know how to apply technology to redefine people’s way of doing things to make their lives easier. The feat can be done by inventing digital tools to streamline difficult work, mostly for repetitive and time-consuming tasks.
People can use RPA as a tool to automate repetitive tasks. In doing so, enterprises and organizations can create newer and better systems, not requiring intense labor, using RPA. Most, if not all, digital transformations rely on the principles of RPA to expedite work progress. Without RPA, it isn’t easy to digitally transform a traditional workplace system into an automated one.