Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is instilling senses of both anticipation and trepidation in the enterprise. On the one hand, it has the potential to vastly improve efficiency and performance of data options, while on the other it is seen as a threat to jobs and the ability to exert adequate control over the data environment when necessary.
One thing is certain: The investment community is starting to wake up to the promise of RPA and its ability to disrupt a number of markets in the transition to a digital services-based economy.
Much of the activity surrounding RPAs is coming from start-ups. Companies like UiPath are developing tools like intelligent assistants, bots and smart voice technologies as means to remove the repetitive tasks that drive up costs and degrade performance in the enterprise. The company got its start in Romania but is now based in the U.S. where it is drawing venture capital from Earlybird, Credo and Accel. Its technology integrates with the user interface of leading CRM and ERP platforms to learn the processes that are currently handled manually and then perform them automatically, starting with basic repetitive functions and gradually moving up to higher-order operations.
Another newcomer is Automate Work, which is leveraging its experience in IT outsourcing to provide a more efficient means of taking on key enterprise functions. The company offers a mix of RPA and cognitive technologies and a suite of managed services that includes strategy development, road-mapping and productivity metrics, all aimed at guiding organizations through the transition to a digital work environment. Company executives say they are buoyed by recent surveys that RPA could become an $8 billion industry by 2022 and there is so far a distinct lack of pure-play providers in North America.
Over in Europe, much of the emphasis is on educating executives and IT workers about the benefits of tools like RPA. In Manchester, UK this week, the Shared Services Week conference will feature a workshop on RPA sponsored by Softomotive and tech services company DXC Technology. The event will highlight DXC’s experiences with RPA and its ability to optimize internal processes and revenue. The companies will also discuss implementation best practices, including which processes are most amenable to automation and how the technology can be integrated and scaled within legacy IT environments.
Nevertheless, RPA, and automation in general, still suffers from the impression that it will wipe away countless jobs in the tech sector. But according to a new study, this will only happen to employees who fail to embrace automation’s ability to boost their own productivity. Information Services Group says RPA is expected to execute business processes five to 10 times faster than manual systems, and use 37 percent fewer resources. So far, however, this is not leading to higher unemployment but a redeployment of employee responsibilities to more intuitive, higher-value functions. In other words, automation will not replace people, just the repetitive tasks they do.
The prospect of robots running the enterprise is certainly unsettling, but it is also wildly inaccurate in describing what is really going on. Technologies like RPA have a marked propensity to do many things for themselves, unlike current systems that require humans to actively initiate virtually every step of a complicated, or even simple, process.
If anything, this leads to a situation in which humans have to work, and work hard, to make their digital environments more productive. In the very near future, however, it will be the environment that works hard for the betterment of human productivity.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.