The term "Robotic Process Automation" (RPA) conjures images of science fiction. The imagination immediately pictures drones and industrial robots zipping around a workspace doing work that would otherwise be completed by humans. In reality, RPA is a much less exotic, but similarly disruptive, idea. RPA technologies create software-based bots that are capable of following pre-set scripts in order to complete work that would normally require manual interaction. They are incredibly effective at performing tasks that are repeatable by nature.
For example, an insurance claims adjuster who would take data included in reports, tabulate that information, and make calculations does a great deal of work that can be automated. With RPA, a bot can be programmed to pull data from various sources, then use a simple rules-based approach to flag potential risks, that can be further investigated by people.
Research from MarketsandMarkets found that the global market for RPA technologies is gaining momentum quickly, as it is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 30.14 percent between 2017 and 2022. MarketsandMarkets expects the RPA market to be valued at $2,467 million by 2022.
With RPA gaining momentum so quickly, organizations need to carefully consider how the technology can benefit them.
RPA offers a proven solution for enterprises that are burdened by inefficiencies and challenges associated with legacy business systems or people-intensive processes. Organizations looking at RPA as merely a task automation tool to drive down costs should reconsider their approach and think about how RPA can be used to drive greater business benefit.
Research from Gartner, Inc. recommends organizations formalize an enterprise automation roadmap (EAR): "Many organizations rush to select RPA software and start a project. Learning about RPA suitability and functionality should be done in conjunction with building a broader enterprise automation roadmap (EAR)."1
The report emphasizes the risks of an approach that focuses only on cost reduction: "By 2019, process automation will have limited impact on top-line growth for 50% of organizations that will erroneously focus on labor reduction, not on improving business outcomes."
Building an EAR will require companies to take a hard look at different automation technologies and understand the interplay. There are significant benefits for organizations that put in the effort to understand how technologies like RPA, business process management (BPM), and artificial intelligence (AI) can be combined to build and execute an overall enterprise automation strategy.
Here are a few examples of how RPA and BPM can deliver significant value:
Greater End-to-End Automation: BPM tools offer powerful process orchestration capabilities that can be used to automate end-to-end business processes. The digital workforce of software robots can be invoked at various points within the overall business process to eliminate repetitive work performed by people. The result is much greater automation and greater visibility into the overall business process. This point is nicely summarized in a quote by Craig Le Clair, VP, & Principal Analyst Forrester Research
"RPA is showing progress as the precursor to tomorrow's digital workforce but works in a simple fashion today automating repetitive tasks but without insight into the end-to-end process or business goals. RPA will benefit from the advanced rules management and process control available within low-code and BPM platforms."
Rapid Transformation Without Invasive Integration Projects: Many organizations today are stuck with complex business processes and legacy business systems that create roadblocks in the path of innovation. For such organizations, combining automation technologies like RPA and BPM can generate impressive results. Using these technologies, organizations can build modern business applications while avoiding time-consuming and costly integration projects. As a result, better customer experience and better operational efficiency can be achieved faster and with much less effort. Here is a great example of how Aviva transformed its customer experience by combining RPA with BPM.
Collaboration Between Humans and Digital Workforce: As more and more organizations embrace the digital workforce, it will become increasingly important to ensure that there is a seamless handoff of work and productive collaboration between the software robots and the knowledge workers. Imagine a notification on your smartphone that says the robot "Andy" performed 300 order entries and one of them needs your approval...and you get the picture.
Organizations are aggressively working towards achieving greater business process automation and providing cutting-edge customer experiences. They are in the process of transforming how business gets done a "zero-touch" digital self-service environment imagine logging into your bank's mobile app and speaking to a virtual assistant about your needs and getting the issues resolved immediately. For a typical large enterprise with hundreds of IT systems, an application like this will require significant plumbing behind the scenes.
Achieving this seamless customer experience and automating the plethora of related business processes will require organizations to leverage multiple automation technologies. RPA will be one of them and will play an important part in the overall solution.
1 Gartner. Robotic Process Automation: Eight Guidelines for Effective Results, Cathy Tornbohm, 12 October 2016
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