In my first blog, I talked about how RPA can help drive increases in operational productivity and quality in your business without you having to invest in completely new systems.
I also mentioned that there is some confusion about the RPA moniker among technically-minded or process-aware individuals, because RPA isn’t really about “robots” in the way that most people think of them. It is also not really about “processes” in the way that most process-focused people would think of them. However it is absolutely about automation. Let’s dig into the reality of RPA.
First – let’s talk about robots.
As Kate Darling, a research specialist at MIT’s Media Lab says: “The word ‘robot’ generates a lot of attention and fascination - and sometimes fear. You can use it to get people's attention… it's much sexier to call something a robot than call something a dishwasher.”
Most robotics experts agree that a robot is a physical machine that can autonomously execute tasks – sensing in its environment and acting accordingly. The software agents that are core to RPA are not physical, and they don’t sense or respond to the objects or qualities of a physical environment – so it’s a real stretch to call them robots (and this does confuse people).
Nevertheless, the agents that power an RPA implementation do, to a limited extent, act based on what they can sense; and with increasing use of machine-learning techniques to enable these agents to adapt to changes in applications’ user interfaces, that sensing is becoming more sophisticated. They also act autonomously (based on programming).
Now, let’s talk about processes.
Most business process professionals, when they think of business processes, will think of sequences of discrete business activities designed to achieve a specified business goal. However, the scope of concern of RPA today is principally one or more individual activities within a business process – and the automation of parts of the procedure associated with an activity. RPA technology is not concerned with (or capable of) the automation of end-to-end business processes.
Having said that, in order to deliver success, RPA initiatives should at least explore end-to-end business processes, even though the individual agents that get created by those initiatives will end up automating (parts of) individual activities.
RPA & your Digital Transformation toolkit
The RPA name may be confusing, and even misleading, but there’s no doubt that the technology has value. “Traditional” IT-driven integration projects involving legacy systems can be difficult to justify, for many reasons - including software and labour costs, skills availability, security and operational risks, and more. Because RPA technology is non-invasive, RPA projects have the potential to be delivered much more quickly and at significantly lower cost – with significantly lower levels of involvement from hard-pressed specialist enterprise IT specialist groups.
RPA is just one tool in the toolbox you should maintain as part of a modern digital business platform toolkit, alongside other digital transformation tools including low-code application development tools, BPM platforms, decision management platforms, and “classic” application integration platforms.