The new acronym you need to know is “RPA”, for Robotic Process Automation. This new technology, which is expected to grow exponentially, is designed to automate repetitive tasks. To what end? To allow workers to have more time to focus on more value-adding activities. Read on to find out everything you need to know about RPA: definition, benefits, pitfalls and use cases.
Definition: what is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology used to automate business processes which typically require human intervention. RPA can perform time-consuming, repetitive tasks thanks to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities which are able to mimic the activity of human workers.
How does this technology work? Imagine a digital robot which is able to connect to systems and use the graphical user interface, exactly as a human operator would – but at lightning speed, with no errors, and which does not need any breaks. That is the general idea of how RPA works.
Never-ending data entry, copy-pasting data from one application to another, comparing data, etc. – all these repetitive tasks which are usually carried out by human beings will be fully automated thanks to RPA.
It will come as no surprise, then, that a promising future is forecast for this new technology Gartner estimates the RPA market will reach USD 1 billion by 2020; and analysts forecast that by that date, 40% of all large global organisations will use RPA to automate their activities, as against 10% today.
The benefits of RPA: how can it be used?
Leslie Willcoks, professor of technology, work, and globalization at the London School of Economics, explains that “RPA is a type of software that mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a task within a process. It can do repetitive stuff more quickly, accurately, and tirelessly than humans, freeing them to do other tasks requiring human strengths”. This technology will enable companies to reduce costs and human error. It is estimated RPA systems can yield an ROI of between 30 and 200 percent in the first 12 months alone.
However, short-term financial gain is not the only benefit that RPA has to offer. Automating processes enables companies to enhance customer satisfaction through better data quality, shorter turnaround times, etc. RPA, therefore, can become a real lever to transform the Customer Experience and optimise your Customer Relationship strategy.
Robotic Process Automation also offers benefits for employees. With the increasing demands of bureaucracy and regulatory requirements, workers have to manage heavier workloads and more and more non-gratifying tasks. Robots can do the tasks that human beings do not enjoy. In other words, automation can alleviate negative stress for workers.
Efficiency, speed, quality, compliance, cost savings, availability: these are the benefits of RPA.
The pitfalls of RPA: what about the human factor?
Like any automation technology, RPA carries the potential risk of eradicating jobs. Forrester Research estimates that RPA will threaten 9% of the global workforce. Quite disturbing – or is it really?
RPA will compel companies to rethink their business model: they will develop centres of excellence which can drive innovation, either in terms of new techniques or processes, to ensure their continued growth. It is important to think in the long-term: the jobs that will disappear because of RPA will be the least interesting jobs for human beings. RPA, therefore, will give them the opportunity to do more interesting work.
There is not enough evidence today to verify the economic benefits of RPA. While it is possible to automate a certain percentage of tasks, this does not necessarily materialize into an equal percentage of cost reduction. Only time will tell.
Leslie Willocks warns that: “The massive roll-out of automation robotics is likely to be a lot more difficult than many experts anticipate. Its impact will be sudden, disruptive, overwhelming and irreversible”.
Use case: how can RPA be used?
Initially limited to a few industries, RPA can now be used in any context. Deloitte explains that RPA can “process any input data by running a series of pre-programmed actions, like a macro, and following predefined business rules. They have the potential to perform in nearly any activity (banking, insurance, public administration, etc.) and a wide range of support functions (finance, human resources, procurement, etc.)”
The application scenarios of RPA are very varied. Some companies use it to offer better quality customer service by automating processes such as checking information, managing claims, or even automated emails responses. Others use it to automate accounting tasks, optimize their billing process, or to generate automated evidence of conformity. For example, American Express uses RPA to manage ticket cancellations and refunds. Deutsch Bank has automated its validation process for the creditworthiness of a customer.
The key takeaway
The key message, then, is that Robotic Process Automation is rapidly claiming a place for itself in the corporate world and will disrupt work as we know it. We are at the threshold of a deep-rooted change in how work is organised. The sooner companies adapt to it, the easier it will be for them to gain a competitive advantage. However, RPA raises significant HR issues, and so, demands thoughtful implementation.
Thanks to its Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence capabilities, RPA can adapt to a great number of contexts and applications, by activating the appropriate processes. I think it is safe to say – appropriately implemented – RPA 2.0 has a rosy future ahead of it.