However intriguing artificial intelligence may seem to the enterprise, the fact is that its initial contribution to data operations will be fairly mundane. Deep learning, neural networks, and a host of other technologies present visions of talking, thinking computers, but the biggest opportunity at the moment comes in the form of robotic process automation (RPA).
RPA differs from more advanced forms of AI in that it focuses on automating the many repetitive processes that currently occupy the time of the knowledge workforce. This can range from the banalities of resource provisioning and network configuration to the internal workings of applications and services. As such, it is seen as crucial to the development of mega-scale data environments like the Internet of Things.
According to Arcluster, the worldwide RPA market is set to top $5 billion by 2022, comprising a range of technology systems and services and impacting functions ranging from finance and procurement to human resources and customer service. It is expected to influence multiple business verticals, such as health care, financial services and manufacturing, and will make its way into leading industrial regions and emerging third-world markets alike.
Like any new technology, however, there is a learning curve, and the fact is that many RPA initiatives fail, says Sanjay Srivastava, chief digital officer of professional services firm Genpact. The specific reasons vary, but in general they often fall to unrealistic expectations, poor architectural design and inadequate governance. In many cases, early adopters overestimate the technology’s ability to improve complicated, multi-stage processes when applied to a single component. As well, issues like change management, lifecycle supervision and system integration can quickly overwhelm a deployment once it hits production workloads.
Indeed, says Ankur Kothari, co-founder of RPA developer Automation Anywhere, RPA is running headlong into another crucial IT initiative: devops. While many organizations are looking to unite development and operations across their data ecosystem, RPA actually works best if these two disciplines, along with the testing phase, are kept separate. This is to ensure that bots only go into production when they are ready. As well, the knowledge workforce must be trained in their use before they start to affect existing processes because, once unleashed, RPA has a tendency to spread like wildfire as workers look to offload their most-hated tasks.
RPA is also hampered by the same integration issues that currently inhibit functionality in multi-platform environments. Automation Anywhere is looking to overcome this drawback by opening its platform to third-party software developers, allowing organizations to manage the interactions between different functions from a single portal. These API-triggered bots can be orchestrated from external customer service or supply chain management systems that, in conjunction with an intelligent management stack, can automate multiple processes that touch a variety of related platforms. The company has also added one-click bot deployment to its platform, as well as Dynamic Java Automation that allows bots to run from bundled Java Runtime Environments (JVE) for smoother operation on virtual machines.
Despite these hiccups in the rollout period, RPA will likely emerge as a crucial element to the digital transformation that is sweeping the enterprise industry. As users demand greater performance from online services and, increasingly, their everyday devices, automated processes will start to carry more of the data load, which means they will have to become more intuitive and adaptable than current automation platforms.
The transition will be challenging, particularly since it comes at a time of sweeping change to both legacy and cloud infrastructure, but failure is not an option. Organizations that do not adapt to RPA and other forms of AI will not last long in a digitally driven economy.
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.