November 3, 2017
It won’t talk to you, and it won’t drive your car. But automating simple tasks through RPA can provide real ROI.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are revolutionizing all manner of industries, from auto manufacturing to online retail. Some implementations—such as self-driving cars—are set to change the world. But AI doesn’t always have to be a game-changing moon shot. Thanks to technologies like robotic process automation (RPA), AI is rapidly expanding to more mundane parts of the business world.
Put simply, RPA is a set of concepts and technologies designed to intelligently automate repetitive business, industrial, and other tasks. RPA has little to do with what we commonly understand as “robots” in the conventional sense of the word. Rather, RPA is defined by algorithms that are built to enhance return on investment (ROI), boost execution speed, and improve the quality of business results. These algorithms follow logical rules, using structured (and some unstructured) data to quickly resolve issues en masse and to deal with problems that human workers would find tedious and time-consuming. The algorithms used in RPA lack the complexity of most cutting-edge AI solutions, but that relative simplicity means they can be deployed on a much wider scale and in a variety of industry settings.
Currently, RPA is finding its greatest foothold in the world of financial services, in which organizations use it to process insurance claims, reconcile financial statements, and resolve credit card disputes, among other tasks. Online retailers also use RPA. When you get a shipping notice that a product you ordered online has left the warehouse, it’s likely that RPA technology was working behind the scenes to send that message automatically, with no human involved.
Automation technologies like RPA could also have an effect on service businesses that would be as dramatic as the effect that conventional robots have had on manufacturing. PwC estimates that 45 percent of all work activities eventually might be automated this way. Such automation would translate into a $2 trillion reduction in global workforce costs.
RPA in the enterprise
One of the biggest advantages of RPA is its ease of deployment. RPA typically does not involve a large-scale tech integration. Instead, it can be installed one user at a time. Tech-savvy professionals may install RPA software on their own computers (often without involving IT) and get up and running within a matter of days. This capability makes RPA available to a range of potential users, since it avoids the need for enterprise-wide deployment.
At the same time, RPA is poised to become a widespread enterprise technology, making automation part of the core business process rather than a one-off solution to fix problems on a limited scale. As management embraces RPA across an organization, it stands to realize a larger share of that $2 trillion in savings.
AI-trained algorithms that are part of RPA initiatives work 24 hours a day without complaint, require no oversight, and can quickly and easily scale. Because the barriers to implementation are so minimal, there’s little reason for most enterprises to delay piloting RPA on a limited basis. In most cases, company leaders will see tangible and measurable results within a few weeks or months.