robot holding pencil
PHOTO: Matthew Hurst

Robotic process automation (RPA) is playing a key role in digital transformation, with some enterprises already reaping the benefits of well-established RPA implementations. COVID-19 is forcing many to look to new technologies, and among the most sought after is RPA, according to Cathy Tornbohm, distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner.

“The decreased dependency on a human workforce for routine, digital processes will be more attractive to end users not only for cost reduction benefits, but also for insuring their business against future impacts like this pandemic,” Tornbohm said in a statement. Gartner predicts large organizations will triple the capacity of their existing RPA portfolios between now and 2024 as a result. The majority of “new” spend will come from large organizations that are purchasing new add-on capacity from their original vendor or partners within the ecosystem.

As organizations grow, they will need to add licenses to run RPA software on additional servers and add additional cores to handle the load, according to Gartner. This trend is a natural reflection of the increasing demands being placed on an organization’s 'everywhere' infrastructure. So where are these RPA additions being used?

Using RPA to Improve Processes

Enterprises are using RPA as a digital workforce that handles a variety of time-consuming manual tasks, allowing human employees to concentrate on more strategic and rewarding work, said Chris Huff, chief strategy officer of Irvine, Calif.-based Kofax. One of the emerging trends is the use of low-code RPA solutions, which allows citizen developers, administrators and professional developers to address their specific business needs and make processes more efficient. 

However, today's enterprises are realizing the true value of RPA is when it is used for ‘task automation’ as part of a larger digital workflow transformation effort. This supports Gartner’s concept of hyper-automation, whereby RPA is a component of a larger, more integrated intelligent automation platform.

Within this context, organizations are able to get more value out of their documents by deploying RPA-powered software robots along with cognitive capture to read, understand, classify, extract and learn documents on the fly, which provides organizations with a wealth of insights from the data their RPA robots are processing. 

“When used with complimentary automation technologies, today's RPA is smarter than ever and can help organizations future-proof their business for the digital era,” Huff said.

Related Article: BPA vs. RPA: How Are They Similar, How Are They Different?

RPA and Understanding Data

The pandemic has been instrumental in forcing companies to reassess their automation needs, agreed Bill Galusha, senior director at Milpitas, Calif.-based ABBYY.   “The really big expansion area for RPA over next three years will be a new wave of digital workers that think and act based on the understanding of data and become smarter over time,” he said.

These digital workers will incorporate the skills of learning and extracting relevant data for unstructured content like documents, videos and photo. This direction likely opens up the door to more complex use cases in areas around not just structuring and processing data, but also applying advanced analytics to make informed business decisions.

To do this the digital worker will need to understand entities and relationship between data and combine with other digital sources that drives the decisions. There's a long list of very complex document- and data-driven uses in areas like tax, fraud, customer identity checking, compliance related and governance.

Related Article: Navigating RPA Potholes on the Bumpy Road to Digital Transformation 

Connecting Business Applications

Despite looming fears of economic instability and concerns over how exactly new technology will impact current jobs, automation plays a vital role in enabling businesses to make the most of their technology and staff, San Francisco-based Tray.io CEO and founder, Rich Waldron, told us.

Unlike some forms of robotic automation, which can ultimately replace people’s jobs, general automation has the potential to be a job-creation category that will have a lasting impact on the job landscape, Waldron argued. As companies around the world look to get the most out of their current software solutions, it’s more important than ever to empower teams to be citizen automators who can independently integrate their own tech stacks and build their own automated workflows.

“Automation combined with API-level integrations helps professionals across an organization connect their mission-critical business applications to freely flow and sync data,” he added. “Increasing productivity and freeing up staff time to focus on more-strategic and revenue-generating activities — not eliminate jobs.”

Which Departments Are Already Using RPA?

RPA’s use is not limited to a particular department, said Nathan Sebastian, a content marketer with Washington, DC-based GoodFirms. Here are four departments where he believes RPA can help out:  

1. HR Department

RPA can cut down on the large amount of repetitive tasks HR personnel must complete. Automating payroll, benefits enrollment, compliance reporting and onboarding can save departments a significant amount of time and effort, as well as substantially reduce the rate of errors.

2. IT Department

Routine monitoring and maintenance of systems eats up a lot of the IT department's time. Enterprises can use RPA for performing the routine check on applications, servers and other systems to ensure their proper functioning, and configure the system to alert the team when issues are detected.

3. Legal Department

Automation in the legal industry can be valuable because it relieves lawyers and their staff from tasks like timesheets and handling paperwork, etc. Huge databases that can be time-consuming and tedious can be properly structured with the help of RPA.

4. Accounting Department

Various end-to-end processes like the record to report, and procedure to pay in accounting are ripe for RPA. For instance, invoicing processes can be streamlined with the help of RPA. When it comes to onboarding new suppliers, that has to be done manually but their screening process can be automated with the help of RPA.