Robotic Process Automation, the Great Enabler

Carl Weinschenk
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The gradual adoption of robotics in industry is one of the dramatic and landmark technical developments of the 21st century.

A key enabler of robotics is robotic process automation (RPA). It is, according to ZDNet, the use of robotics for such mundane tasks as data entry, and it is a class of enablers that lays the groundwork for more sophisticated robotic processes.

The site says that Gartner refers to RPA as “gateway technologies” and “surface tools” that are atop the applications that they aim to automate. RPAs are sort of the poorly treated interns of the robotic world: They do all the drudgery and set things up for the more sophisticated software to take over (and get all the credit). The advantages are that RPA doesn’t have to be integrated into the deeper process and is inexpensive and simple to implement.


RPA is at an early stage, but the category is growing quickly, according to Gartner. It is an important topic in the overall discussion of robotics and the possibility that it will lead to the elimination of huge numbers of jobs. This is one of the two great fears connected to robotics (the other, of course, is that the robots will take over).

The science also seems to be moving quickly. In the introduction to a Q&A with Deloitte Managing Director David Schatsky, CIO’s Stephanie Overby writes that RPA is taking its place in the stack of capabilities that are necessary for robots to become the equal of people. It is, in other words, playing the enabling role envisioned by Gartner:

By combining RPA with cognitive technologies such as machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language processing, companies can automate higher-order tasks that in the past required the perceptual and judgment capabilities of humans.

The category will grow quickly because it is a starting point for the broader field of robotics and, therefore, will get a lot of attention and investment. Last week, Fujitsu and Thoughtonomy signed a global agreement. Under the deal, Thoughtonomy’s Virtual Workforce capabilities will be added to Fujitsu’s Global Application Modernization Integration practice. In short, Thoughtonomy is playing the enabling role for Fujitsu.

Corporate tasks are a mix of specialized and generic skills. An example used in the ZDNet piece is enterprise resource planning (ERP), which involves highly specialized people, with unique knowledge. It also requires monotonous input of data, which is done by lower-wage workers. RPA offers that lower-level capability and, when teamed with artificial intelligence, can replace multiple employees. This, of course, raises many important business and ethical issues.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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