Of course automation is not new, the difference with RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is that it delivers automation by using software robots that mimic human interactions with computer systems in a non-invasive way. This means that businesses do not need to throw away existing computer systems. RPA can be used to perform the repetitive tasks necessary to operate both individual computer applications and between such applications.
Asking people to work like “Machines” has never been ideal. Despite best intentions, human error occurs and such mistakes can be costly to rectify. The level of errors will vary but the generally accepted figure is 4% of activity will be impacted. RPA is more accurate and more predictable than manual activity.
The potential market
There are millions of office workers, most of whom spend significant time working in computer systems for their companies. With this potential market, it is clear why investors have been keen to participate in UiPath’s recent IPO, as the leading RPA software vendor.
It is worth avoiding the “hype”, not everyone who spends time working with computer applications is going to benefit from RPA. The key factor for any automation to be successful is “Repetition”. It would be possible to automate any activity, but without the repetition it would not be a good investment as every automation has a cost which can only be recovered by achieving savings on the usage of the automated process.
Every company will have a range of business processes covering sales, production, finance, HR, etc. These core activities are available in the software applications such as CRM, ERP, AR, AP, etc. The use of RPA will not replace any of these systems, but it will impact the human activity to interact with such systems.
The price for RPA products such as a UiPath licence has reduced over recent years as the technology has become more established. This has meant that levels of “Repetition” required to justify an investment in RPA, with good ROI, can be seen in virtually every business.
Although RPA technology has a history of using the user interface (GUI) to mimic the interaction of humans with applications, for the larger application vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, etc. the RPA vendors have created API interfaces to the technology. This still allows the mimicking of the human interaction but offers the potential to deliver it in a more efficient route.
Normally where there is “repetition” it is defined by very clear rules based on distinct data conditions and this is ideal for RPA. However, there are business processes that rely upon less well-defined situations, this is where the potential to include Artificial Intelligence (AI) alongside RPA offers a further range of benefits. The pair of technologies are well suited as each can leverage the strengths of the other. RPA delivering the “action” and AI delivering the “understanding”.
For any director considering automation, whether they invest today or tomorrow the opportunity will still be there. Good company directors will always be looking to improve the performance of the business. For many companies, COVID-19 and Brexit, mean that changes have had to occur which presents challenges as well as opportunities. Nobody can assume that competitors will be continuing as “normal”, hence the need to adopt automation has never been greater.
UiPath have been promoting “a robot for every desktop”, which initially can seem a little ambitious but given that there is never just “one” business process in an organisation which would benefit from automation, over time the amount of automation a company can embrace could be huge. This could well mean every desktop having a robot deployed, but it would not mean ever user spending all day interacting with the robot. Effective automation at scale, is where the UiPath scenario could become reality.
Motivation for RPA
There are approximately 4,000 business in the UK using RPA. Although there used to fear for some people about automation, many HR Directors would report that RPA improves employee satisfaction (“not working like robots”) and an eagerness to embrace the technology from those who have a vision for the future. Managing directors see investing in RPA in the same way as deploying machines in the production line, it being essential to a company for competitiveness in the market.
With the potential to gain board support for an RPA initiative, it is often aspiring managers responsible for operational activities that start the conversations on automation.
Catalyst for RPA
There are many different triggers or catalysts that start a business being interested in RPA. These include:
- Knowledge that a competitor has an RPA project
- External events such as COVID-19 and Brexit posing big change to processes
- Increasing workload with team size constraints
- Human errors raising compliance challenges and quality issues
- “Smarter not harder” programmes seeking practical solutions
- Digital Transformation leaders looking at “quick wins”
- IT managers dealing with legacy systems and cloud SaaS initiatives
- Directors determined to get ahead of competitors by being first to automate
The “why” of RPA
The “Why” question for RPA, can have answers such as:
- It is good for staff so that they do not “work like robots”
- It is good for business as it delivers a “return on investment” (ROI)
- It is good for customers as less errors means better quality
- It provides the opportunity to change when work is preformed (robots work 24 x 7)
RPA can start small and grow
Implementing RPA does not require a revolution. RPA can start with a single task in a business process. Yes, starting with one robot has some setup overhead, but once in place it delivers a lot of capacity. This is a critical part of the thinking to getting the best use from the RPA investment. Once the robot is established it can perform a variety of different tasks. The robot workload can be controlled through a schedule or the use of Queues. As every Finance Director will tell you, “sweat the asset”, so each robot can perform a range of different tasks.
There are of course different types of robots. There are robots that work on their own, taking work from other systems, emails, databases, etc. There are other types of robot that work alongside people directly interacting with them as they perform their daily activities as an “assistant”.
RPA delivers ROI
Every business wants an ROI to justify any change. RPA is able to offer a number of “soft” benefits in terms of the impact on people and their work, and it is also able to deliver the “hard” benefits the company directors like to see.
Case Studies have shown that an RPA solution can be the equivalent of employing staff to do the same task at the rate of £1 per hour!
The RPA choice
There are many RPA technologies available in the market. Each company will factor in their specific requirements when selecting an RPA solution from an RPA vendor or more commonly from an RPA reseller.
UiPath has been the first of the leading vendors to reach an IPO which reflects its broad appeal. Microsoft making acquisitions to strengthen its position with Power Automate demonstrates market maturity.