Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is poised to make major gains in the enterprise, forever altering the way infrastructure, applications and data are managed.
But are robots going to become as ubiquitous as some people believe, or will they see a more targeted deployment in support of key enterprise functions?
According to Indian management consulting firm Zinnov, robotic automation will generate between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion in enterprise spending this year alone, hitting $6.5 billion by 2020. The bulk of this activity will come from software bots that will infiltrate those business and IT processes that utilize varying levels of rules-based and cognitive processes. The key drivers, of course, are to lower the cost of these operations and increase accuracy and efficiency in scale-out environments. Automation will be highly prominent in applications like business process management (BPM), which, according to Zinnov partner Praveen Bhadada, could see upwards of 70 percent of deterministic processes transition to intelligent software management.
The combination of RPA and cognitive technologies will likely supercharge the automation of the enterprise, says Deloitte Managing Director David Schatsky. In an interview with ZDNet, he noted that while traditional automation can already handle routine tasks like data entry and basic systems management, a cognitive upgrade can turn this technology loose on a wealth of actions that require perception and judgement. Not only can cognitive solutions extract and structure information from speech, text and images, but they can identify patterns and make predictions about outcomes. In this way, RPA won’t have to be programmed to carry out specific tasks in a specific way, but can simply be told what the expected outcome is and then be allowed to determine the best process on its own.
All of this may sound scary to today’s IT tech, but it’s important to remember that while humans will never be able to function like robots, robots will never function like humans either. They key, says KPMG’s Cliff Justice in a sponsored post on cio.com, is to integrate human and digital labor to gain the maximum performance from both. Enterprises that simply deploy automation to reduce labor costs are not leveraging the technology to its maximum potential. Instead, organizations should look to automation to take on the rote, repetitive tasks that people are not good at and tend not to enjoy, so that humans can focus on the creative, value-enhancing roles that they excel at. Top management can best accomplish this goal by clearly articulating its intentions for automation to the labor force, and specifying what skills workers will need in an automated environment so they can manage their own transition to the new data environment.
The enterprise should also avoid looking at RPA as just a technology but as a component in a broader transitional strategy. As Paul Singer and Siddhartha Sharad of business consulting firm Pace Harmon note, one of the key mistakes is to deploy RPA in sporadic fashion across disparate functions. Instead, as leaders like AT&T have shown, continuous, proactive engagement with RPA is essential to establish it as a strategic imperative. In this way, organizations can avoid cross-departmental conflict when, say, business units start implementing RPA at the expense of IT involvement, or platforms are deployed as tactical, short-term solutions that end up hampering overarching management regimes. One way to avoid these scenarios is to deploy an enterprise-level RPA solution backed by a center of excellence (COE) that allows best practices to emerge and infiltrate multiple business processes in a cohesive manner.
Automation is nothing new, of course. Since the Industrial Revolution, automation has been on a steady march to replace human labor with machine-driven processes – a dynamic that has carried through to the digital age as first the mainframe, then the PC, then the cloud all assumed some of the work that humans did to one degree or another.
Is RPA likely to cause disruption in the knowledge workforce? Absolutely. But ultimately there is no reason to think it will be any more detrimental than earlier forms of automation. And if managed correctly, it can allow individuals to become even more valuable to their organizations than they are now.
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.