red robot next to a laptop on a desk
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As enterprises adopt new digital technologies in an effort to scale their digital workplaces, they're often disrupting how employees work. Is the disruption for the better? We hope so. 

Daniel Newman, writing in Forbes, noted two trends in modern digital workplaces that we hope will come to fruition: “improvements to the employee user experience through improvements in IT, their use of the tech or the apps and programs you’re providing them with,” and “removing bureaucracy by taking mundane and extremely tedious work and simplifying it using technology such as apps, platforms, workflow management and more."

This year we’ve seen the rise of a technology that is beginning to hit both of these aspects of the employee experience: robotic process automation. The impact of RPA on business processes — both customer-facing and employee-facing — has begun a wave of workplace disruption.

The Year in Robotic Process Automation

Business is already using digital business platforms to create strategic value for their customers, by innovating customer-facing processes and applications faster and more flexibly. Inside the organizations supporting those customer processes are the employee processes and the employee user experience.

Digital business platforms use business process management (BPM) to efficiently coordinate work between people and enterprise information systems, connecting people, technology and workflows. Now the robots are arriving too, as robotic process automation (RPA) is added to the mix. Business processes are now seeing ways to coordinate people, information systems, workflow — and a digital workforce.

In 2018 we started gaining a sense of how people and robot assistants can work together. More is coming. People need to get used to collaborating with robot automation, which is at once a new technical tool, a way to tame the tedium of bureaucracy and a whole new way of working.

The global RPA market continued to grow in 2018. According to the 2018 Robotic Process Automation Annual Report by Everest Group Research, the global RPA independent technology vendor market grew at about 92 to 97 percent in 2017, and is expected to grow between 75 and 90 percent annually up to 2019. The report highlighted the accelerated rate of RPA adoption in small- and medium-sized companies and that industry-specific processes continued to see the highest adoption of RPA.

2018 is the year we saw RPA validated.

The RPA players are seeing success not because they are replacing people, but because they are freeing up humans to innovate, to explore new business opportunities and to improve internal efficiency. And this will further drive more opportunity for BPM technologies.

Related Article: Business Process Management vs. Robotic Process Automation: How to Choose

Looking Ahead to RPA and BPM in 2019

In 2019, I expect to see the world of BPM evolve to better integrate the growing robotic workforce into the coordination of humans, systems and workflow.

We’re already seeing financial services like banks begin to adopt RPA combined with BPM. For example, consider the process of applying for a loan via a mobile phone, perhaps a new financial product promoted by the bank specifically for a green energy purchase. A human loan officer will ultimately provide the final approval of the application based on the customer’s information in the bank’s system. But instead of the bank officer collecting, retrieving and collating all the necessary information, she assigns those tasks to an RPA assistant. The RPA retrieves the available data, is capable of asking the customer for any missing or additional information needed (hi, friendly chatbot!) and only when everything is ready does the bank officer need to enter the process and provide approval. The robot assistant takes action again when the final contract is ready for a signature, pinging the customer to get her signature, and so on from assistant to bank officer to customer until the process is complete.

The interactions in a business process application used to be with humans and with systems; now, with RPA added to the mix, these processes interact with robots in a similar way they used to interact with humans. In terms of how BPM technology interacts with RPA technology, the BPM application engine calls an RPA robot to complete a task; conversely, the RPA system can call back the workflow to continue the process once its task(s) are done. 

Related Article: Busting 8 Robotic Process Automation Myths

Are You Ready for Your Robot Assistant?

Repetitive, tedious tasks are the best candidates for delegation to our robot assistants. The more routine and mechanical the work, the more likely it is to be done by a robot. Conversely, the more creativity is needed, the less likely a robot can actually help.

As robot assistants are adopted in the next year, we’ll see more opportunities to work creatively and to launch more digital transformation initiatives.

Someday, according to UiPath CEO Daniel Dines, everyone in the office is going to have a robot assistant. Does that sounds farfetched? Perhaps about as much as Bill Gates’ vision that someday we’d have a computer on every desk!