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Robot revolution, redefined: Not all software robots are equal

When we talk about robots, we mean software robots. This means we’re not talking about images of big hunks of metal, or ready-to-order factory made human duplicates. 

Here is a debate revolving around robot technology, echoing the potential for making the role of humans obsolete. Yet, we can be truly ready for a ‘robot revolution redefined’ in the form of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), or as it is becoming better known as these days, Enterprise Process Robotics. 

At their most basic level, software robots are designed to make business and IT processes more efficient, consistent and productive. Yet, this is not to say that robots will take over the role of the human in the office. It simply means that solutions will be far easier to implement, through the use of smart robots which can catch and analyse existing applications for manipulating data, processing a transaction or triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.

Business roles and processes such as HR, finance and accounting and the supply chain are process-centric modes of business management, as opposed to a user-centric process. The cynics would claim that people have always performed these tasks, so why should this change? The real question should be: will the status quo hold up in the boardroom, circa 2017 as all organisations will have to implement process changes to survive and thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

Indeed, it would be easy to assume automation systems are a black and white interface which initiates a standard protocol, completing any given task within minutes. It doesn’t work like that. To gain a greater understanding of this paradigm, we need to know how these automation systems communicate with applications such as Oracle, SAP and Salesforce, in order for them to run processes autonomously end-to-end and complete the tasks within.

The level at which RPA can be achieved depends on the specific methods with which they communicate with applications. To that end, there are two methods robotics can utilise in order to ‘talk’ with applications. One such method is using the User Interface, wherein the robot essentially mimics a user by operating its own desktop infrastructure to communicate with particular applications. 

However, this system is particularly draining on resources, as a vast desktop infrastructure is needed; one hundred robots need one hundred desktops. This form of communication is known as Analogue Robotics and, as the name suggests, is dependent on the performance of first generation robotics.

The second method is Digital Robotics which utilise Application Programmable Interfaces (API). You may have heard of this in relation to ad campaigns; Snapchat for example has been rapidly expanding its ad API, which grants marketers a greater range of optimised content that auto-plays in-between Snapchat user stories. API utilises a direct line of communication between a robot and an application, removing the need for vast desktop sessions and introducing a scalability protocol which demonstrates little to no overheads or management operations.

Analogue Robotics are beneficial if the applications a business is using have no defined API’s. Yet, modern business applications almost universally have defined API’s. This means that Analogue Robotics is becoming obsolete insofar as their usefulness in business processes are concerned.

So, how can Digital Robotics transform business applications? Well, deploying them productively would be a good start. Ultimately, this means implementing robotics which can interpret and localise their own input data, and therefore work independently. Interestingly, this flexibility enables humans a greater breadth of productivity through high levels of Full Time Equivalent capacity release, as the only operations which require their involvement are when judgements or approvals are needed.

Conversely, robotics that require humans to initiate them, for example those on a service desk, take on a rubric of repetitive tasks which are normally a subsidiary of other, more extensive processes. The process is also encumbered by a slow working rate, as each task is completed individually, one after the other, as opposed to multiple tasks being undertaken concurrently. This is exactly how digital robots work, resulting in a 70-100 per cent increase in productivity, according to some reports, in contrast with human initiated robots which only deliver a 10-30 per cent improvement.

In our digital economy, you would be surprised how many regular, rules-based repetitive processes are undertaken manually. Enterprise Process Robotics or RPA is a journey ready to embark upon, a journey that will create new and valuable opportunities.

Different teams will be more streamlined, rife with versatile players as skill sets shift, and innovation will accelerate due to less time worrying about repetitive yet business-critical processes. ‘The Robot Revolution’ has taken on a new meaning. Let’s embrace it with open arms.

Neil Kinson, Chief of Staff at Redwood Software (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva / Shutterstock

Neil Kinson is Chief of Staff at Redwood Software. Prior to joining Redwood Neil was part of the EMEA leadership team at OpenText, holding a number of executive roles.