Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has grown exponentially over the last few years and all the indications are that it will continue to do so.
According to a report by Forrester, RPA is set to grow from $250 million in 2016 to $2.9 billion in 2021.
Separate research from Grand View revealed that RPA adoption will rise to $3.11 billion in 2025.
Many organizations are already reaping the benefits of RPA, while others are skeptical about its adoption - usually due to misunderstandings about what it is and how it can be used.
In this blog, we will discuss what RPA is, the defining characteristics of RPA adoption and more importantly, how you can benefit from it.
But before we get into the 3 curious characteristics of RPA, let’s first take a moment to discuss the core functionalities.
RPA is a type of enterprise tech that uses software robots, also known as “bots”, to help automate repetitive tasks within an enterprise's workflow.
It comprises of 5 main elements:
Transactional RPA Tasks: This is a type of software technology that is designed to perform transactional IT tasks in the way a user would.
Machine Learning - This describes a set of algorithms that identifies patterns in structured data, through “supervised” and “unsupervised” learning.
Natural Language Generation - This software technology translates observations from data into prose. Structured performance data can be converted into a natural-language engine to write internal and external management reports automatically.
Smart Workflow - This is a type of a process-management software technology that integrates tasks performed by groups of humans and machines.
Cognitive Agents - This describes machine-learning and natural-language generation to build a completely virtual workforce. It can carry out a range of tasks such as communicating with employees and workers, executing tasks and learning data sets.
The advantage of IPA is that it can significantly increase efficiency, reduce operational risks, improve response times and enhance productivity.
So now we understand a little more about what RPA is, let’s look at its core functionalities from a very basic level.
At its core, RPA does 3 main things:
Interacts with other systems
The RPA bot interacts with other systems via AP integrations or screen scraping. This allows it to work within enterprise systems.
Utilizes Decision Systems
RPA bot uses a decision system to decide what actions to take. It does this by rapidly learning from other systems.
The bot also includes a program interface that allows it to be programmed, according to specific business needs and tasks.
All 3 functionalities enable RPA to perform specified tasks within a system.
For many businesses, gaining access to data is the easy part. However, turning that data into information they can actually use in a way that makes sense for their businesses is often more of a challenge.
This is one of the areas that RPA can help - turning data into actionable intelligence.
Actionable intelligence refers to the ability to gain and apply knowledge as skills. For example, bots will obtain both structured and unstructured data and transform it into actionable intelligence for the end user or customer. Furthermore, AI and cognitive intelligence are the common features of RPA solutions.
It often involves elements of machine learning, computer visions, and cognitive automation. These combined features can help bots to improve the way they make decisions.
In many ways, it is similar to AI, except RPA uses structured inputs and logic, while AI uses unstructured inputs and develops its own logic.
These days, RPA often includes advanced OCR to make it simpler to extract data from documents and images. One of its most standard features is screen scraping that deals with capturing bitmap data from the system screen and cross-checking it against stored details to decipher it.
Often it is attained by integrating with OCR engines like Google and Microsoft. RPA can also structure data while reading structured documents.
This is particularly useful when trying to extract data from documents such as tax returns and invoices.
OK so listing humans as an asset of RPA may seem more than a little curious. But it would be remiss to leave humans out of the equation. The truth is that even with the most sophisticated RPA technology, the majority of quality firms are still relying on humans.
The most interesting thing about this is the special way in which humans engage with robots. While some companies are investigating this via case management and analytics, at its most simplest level, RPA generates the data and interprets it in a relevant way, while humans oversee the entire process. When errors are detected, an agent will step in to correct those errors. Sometimes it could be as simple as adding greater context to an RPA automation in a way that only a human can. While some speculate that robots will replace humans, the technology is not quite there yet.
According to Deloitte’s third annual RPA survey, 78% of those who have invested in RPA plan to invest even more in the next 3 years.
If this trend continues, RPA will achieve “near universal adoption” in the next 5 years.
Its findings also suggest that RPA meets and exceeds expectations in terms of compliance, quality, accuracy, productivity, and cost reduction.
The research from Forester, Grand View and Deloitte suggest that there are clear benefits to using RPA, which is transforming the modern business world by streamlining processes and boosting efficiency.
Innovation is occurring all the time, so in the future, its scope may be unlimited and extend far beyond what is possible now.
So now we’ve discussed some of its characteristics, what are the main benefits of RPA that businesses actually care about?
Productivity: This is probably one of the main benefits of RPA. Robots can complete tasks about 5 times faster than humans can. Unlike humans, robots do not need to take vacation time or stop for breaks, so they can work 24/7. Businesses can save money and scale growth much more rapidly as a result of the boost in productivity.
Increased efficiency: RPA eliminates routine, repetitive tasks and performs a diverse range of rule-based work in the same way a human would. Not only does this increase individual and team productivity but it also scales efficiency at all levels of the business. By freeing teams up to handle the tasks that add the most value to a business, it eliminates waste and paves the way for significant business growth.
Higher Value Workforce: When teams have more autonomy to concentrate on high-value activities, the result is a happier workforce and increased employee morale. But perhaps the biggest advantage of all is that RPA gives you access to a highly flexible workforce, especially in cases where demand is uneven, activity levels are unpredictable, and turnover is high. Robots can also be scaled up and down according to business needs with ease. So if you’re going through a slow period then you will have the flexibility to scale down those processes. Essentially, they can be deployed on demand, which makes it easier to have the right level of staff at the right time.
ROI: Investing in RPA is like enlisting an entirely new workforce but with much lower operating costs and a noticeable spike in ROI within weeks.
The benefits of RPA can be summarised as having more and also less of everything. More in terms of time, money, a growing workforce, increased efficiency and productivity.
But you will also have less: lower operational costs, less stress associated with trying to adapt a static workforce and less recurring, tedious work that eats up more time.
But don’t take our word for it. A study by the Everest Group highlighted similar benefits. In one study, they found that major businesses earned nearly 4X on their RPA investments, while other enterprises earned nearly double.
Separate research published by the Institute for Robotic Process Automation revealed that RPA robots cost much less than their human counterparts - it works out to approximately one-fifth the cost of onshore workers and one-third the price of offshore workers.
While this article has highlighted many of the curious characteristics associated with RPA - the advantages of using it is probably the most interesting feature of all. This is because ultimately, when men and machines work side by side - the result is a powerful on-demand workforce that can scale the dull parts of your business; while enabling employees to leverage their time more effectively by focussing on the creative, mission-critical tasks in the way that only a human can.