Robotic Process Automation

These days, more CIOs are using something called RPA (Robotic Process Automation). This emerging technology allows enterprise operations to be streamlined, resulting in a reduction in costs.

By using RPA, businesses can automate the more mundane business processes — those that are rules-based. This allows business users to put their time to more important work, such as serving customers. There are those who consider RPA to be a mere stopgap on the way to using machine learning and artificial automation for intelligent automation. And that type of technology can easily be trained to make predictions and judgements about future output.

What, Exactly, is RPA?

It is a technological application that is governed by both structured inputs and business logic. RPA is aimed at the automation of business processes, providing tools that businesses can use for configuring robots or software to capture applications, and interpret them for transaction processing, data manipulation, triggering responses, as well as for communication with a range of digital systems.

RPA scenarios can range from something simple, like generating automatic email responses, right up to the deployment of thousands of bots, each with its own programming to automate specific jobs inside an ERP system.

What Are the Benefits?

Using RPA gives businesses a better ability to reduce both human error and staffing costs. One bank employed RPA to redesign its process of making claims. 13 different processes were run by 85 bots and more than 1.5 million claim requests were handled per year. By doing this, the bank increased its operating capacity by the equivalent of 200 employees working full-time hours at around 30% of the cost of actually recruiting and employing that many new staff.

Typically, bots are much cheaper and easier to implement as they do not require deep integration into the business systems, and they don’t require any custom software either. Characteristics like these are vital to organizations that want to expand and grow without creating friction amongst employees, and without adding too much expenditure.

Business users can also inject cognitive technology, such as speech recognition, machine learning, and natural language processing, into RPA to provide a huge boost to their automation efforts. This would allow high-order tasks to be automated, tasks that would previously have needed capabilities that only humans had, such as judgment and perception.

RPA implementations like this, where as many as 15 or 20 steps could be automated, belong to a value chain called IA, or Intelligent Automation. By the year 2020, it is expected that AI and automation will result in a drop of 65% in employee requirements in shared-service centers. And at the same time, the RPA market will hit $1 billion. By then, around 40% of large businesses are likely to have adopted RPA in one form or another – today, that number stands at under 10%.

What About the Pitfalls?

RPA certainly will not suit all businesses. Like any of the automation technologies, it does have the potential to eliminate some jobs. And this is something that presents a huge challenge to CIOs in managing workplace talent. While any enterprise that embraces RPA is trying to keep as many employees as possible, transitioning them to new positions, it is estimated that as much as 9% of the global workplace, at least 230 million knowledge workers, will be threatened by RPA.

Even if the CIOs can get around this, more RPA implementations fail than succeed. Multiple programs have already been placed on indeterminate hold. And in some cases, CIOs have outright refused to take on any more bots.

It has worked out more expensive and time-consuming to install thousands of bots than most businesses hoped. Much of this is down to the fact that platforms change, and bots are not always configured with the flexibility necessary to adapt to this. On top of that, if a new regulation is implemented with just minor changes, it can throw months of work off for a bot that is almost complete.

According to a recently released Deloitte UK study, only about 3% of businesses have successfully scaled RPA to a level of at least 50 robots. Plus, there are no assurances on the economic outcomes of any RPA implementation. While it is entirely possible that 30% of tasks could be automated for most occupations, it doesn’t actually equate to a reduction in costs of 30%.

Which Companies Use RPA?

Some of the companies currently deploying RPA solutions are Anthem, Ernst & Young, AT&T, Deutsche Bank, Walmart, Vanguard, Walgreens, and American Global Business Travel — there are many more such examples.

The CIO of Walmart, Clay Johnson, says that the retailer has already deployed around 500 bots, automating jobs such as answering questions from employees to analyzing audit documents, and retrieving useful information from them.

On the other hand, the CIO of American Express Global Business Travel, David Thompson, makes use of RPA for automating the process of airline ticket cancellations and issuing the refunds. They are also planning to use the technology in automatic recommendations for rebooking when an airport is closed down and for the automation of certain tasks in expense management.

At the end of the day, there isn’t any magic formula for the implementation of RPA but it does require a business to have the long-term ethos of intelligent automation. Furthermore, right now, there are no guarantees that it will work, or that it is the right solution for any individual business.