RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, seems to be everywhere you turn – although just five years ago, most people weren’t even aware that such a thing existed. But what is it, and why is it important?
In case you haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore RPA, a quick way to understand it is as follows:
RPA is a business and technology practice that deals with the configuration and management of software “robots” that act as synthetic application users, automating highly repeatable, highly structured tasks across business software systems.
RPA can help drive increases in operational productivity and quality in your business without you having to invest in completely new systems. It provides a non-invasive alternative to the creation and use of specialized integration APIs, or programmed integration by other means (for example hooking into underlying databases via triggers, or hooking into application code directly).
RPA technology delivers self-contained software agents that gather and update information in other business software applications by automating actions against their existing (Windows-based, web-based, or other) user interfaces. In other words, where there’s work that’s based around routine data entry and retrieval from software applications, RPA can automate this work by mimicking application operators’ actions with specialized software agents.
RPA technology vendors are growing quickly, as more and more enterprises invest and then increase their investments. Although RPA success is not guaranteed – it can be complicated to find the best candidate areas for investment, and then to scale a program, for example - some of the success stories are very striking. For example, a large European consumer-focused insurance group implemented RPA across 35 business processes, halving the administration workload in its call centers – and significantly improving its Net Promoter Score (NPS) along the way, demonstrating significantly increased customer satisfaction.
Nevertheless, we still find a lot of organizations confused about where RPA “fits” and how it can deliver value.
Are they robots or aren’t they?
A big part of the reason that RPA has become such a force for change in business operations is that the technology is pitched in a way that just makes simple sense to the people and teams that typically lead purchases and projects. Every operations leader can understand the concept of a “digital workforce” – a team of trained software robots, carrying out repetitive office-based tasks in place of humans… even if operations staff themselves find that concept unsettling.
However the RPA name is also a problem, especially for more technically-minded or process-aware individuals. This is because RPA isn’t really about “robots” in the way that most people think of them, and it’s also not really about “processes” in the way that most process-focused people would think of them. (However it is absolutely about automation).
In my next post, I explain these ideas more in detail.