At different points in the history of technology there have been moments of transformation that have revolutionised industries and the way businesses operate. You could take this as far back as the wheel. The Gutenberg press revolutionised printing and communications. The industrial revolution and the steam engine transformed the manufacturing and transport of goods. And in a more modern nod to technological transformation, the smartphone has disrupted everything it has come into contact with over the last ten years.
‘Transformative’ soon however becomes pervasive, as technologies and processes blend into the fabric of our increasingly technology-driven world, and we take them for granted as they become a central part of our lives, through which we work, play, live and communicate.
An understated yet tremendously transformative technology that sits along the value realisation curve for today’s businesses is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Occasionally boosted with cognitive capabilities, RPA is less about replacing humans with software robots (bots for short), but more about allowing the human workforce to use its energies, abilities and skills to focus on activities that truly require our ingenuity and creativity.
Humans are not designed for repetitive tasks – we can be slow, we make mistakes and we often get bored. RPA bots can perform repetitive tasks again and again, at speed and with near zero errors, to name just two of the many benefits of the technology.
RPA adoption is growing exponentially and is set to accelerate in a surprisingly short period of time, so now is the time for organisations to move quickly. Forrester estimates that, by 2021, there will be over 4 million robots doing office, administrative, sales and related tasks, with the market worth $2.9 billion.
Getting From Manual to Automatic
Just a few years ago, to adopt an automation solution in a business was a serious developmental challenge that required a great deal of resource, skill, money and time – it was often out of reach of even large enterprises.
It not only required expertise in terms of artificial intelligence and machine learning, but a solid grasp of the applications and processes that you want to automate, and how they have been implemented in the organisation.
Compounding this was the reality that businesses never stop evolving – applications, infrastructure and processes move on at pace, which meant that any bespoke automation needed to be able to keep pace with that rate of change. The development and test cycles for bespoke solutions could be tedious and slow. Bespoke in-house solutions could also be put at risk of breaking when updates are made to applications on which the automation relies for data, or to integrate with in other ways.
All these factors increased the cost and risk for enterprises when it came to bespoke automation, and often meant they could not scale automation initiatives as quickly as they’d like to. And without speed, organisations risked losing their competitive edge.
Putting RPA Muscle to Work
A big change has taken place with the arrival of RPA that overcomes the challenges mentioned above and makes implementing automation solutions as simple as making a purchase online or clicking Lego blocks together. Building RPA solutions is now as easy as chaining together those blocks, and customising them, to meet your specific business needs. No longer is it necessary to build a solution from scratch.
The tools available are easy to use, and very visual, rather than relying entirely on API-driven programming languages. This means that colleagues in the business can work alongside their co-workers in IT to link any applications they are using together, whether it’s Excel, SAP, Oracle, SFDC, or any other local or web application.
This ability to collaborate on the configuration of RPA bots can greatly accelerate the development process as well as the understanding of the problem being solved between those working on the bot, rather than constantly translating between ‘IT lingo’ and the language of an internal department.
Bot store marketplaces and platforms are a new opportunity for companies at all stages of the digital transformation journey to integrate RPA solutions into their IT infrastructure. If a company is looking to automate a process, task or activity, it can now go to a bot store and search for pre-built bots that meet its needs, download them, and plug them straight into their business processes.
Bots that have been developed, tested and proven at scale – often by the same companies that build them. No specialist in-house skills are required, enabling organisations to get started with automation quickly and grow their automation projects more easily and at lower risk.
When changes do happen in the business, adapting the RPA is simply a matter of customising, or downloading a new bot, rather than embarking on a new development effort. This modular approach means that a company can start with a conservative investment in a small subset of processes and then expand its use of RPA as confidence builds amongst key stakeholders – it won’t take long!
For starters, ask ten employees in your business whether there is a repetitive manual task that they dislike. You’ll get ten places that RPA can bring efficiency and free your employees to focus on more rewarding tasks for them, and the business.
If it’s Repetitive, you can RPA it
RPA is on the cusp of becoming mainstream, it is being used right now in companies across a wide range of vertical sectors including banking, manufacturing, retail and telco’s to name but a few. Horizontally, in finance departments, call centres, HR, engineering, marketing and the boardroom it is being used in creative ways to make teams and processes more efficient, bringing real improvements for companies and their end-customers. Those gains are allowing businesses to refocus the attention of staff on tasks that demand their higher levels skills and creativity.
The advent of bot marketplaces is making the technologies of RPA, including business process optimisation, artificial intelligence and machine learning, accessible to companies of all sizes, regardless of their ability to execute new technologies and the size of their budget. Getting some RPA muscle in your business will release untapped creativity and accelerate innovation in a way that will make you more competitive, efficient and customer-centric.
James Dening, Vice President Europe at Automation Anywhere
Image Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva / Shutterstock