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Is RPA a Self-Defeating Automation Strategy?

Malcolm Ross, Senior Vice President, Product Strategy, Appian
March 9, 2023

So, did you invest in RPA?

Did you buy into the dream of automation?

How's it going? Are your bots running at 100% reliability and delivering amazing ROI?

Or are you fighting bot breakdowns and struggling to justify the expense of costly RPA bots with poor reliability?

Robotic process automation (RPA) can be a useful technology in the right circumstance—it allows organizations to automate repetitive, routine tasks that are normally performed by humans. It involves using software robots, or "bots," to perform certain tasks without human intervention. Automation like this promises to free your employees from the manual, repetitive work that gets in the way of higher value activities—like finding innovative new ways to provide an excellent customer experience. 

While RPA has the potential to improve efficiency and reduce employee workload, it is important to recognize that RPA is not a complete solution for achieving an automated organization.

Many organizations, eager to keep up with the trend toward automation in the business world, hastily applied RPA to areas where it just wasn’t well suited. Those same organizations are now realizing RPA as a complete automation tool is actually a self-defeating strategy. Instead of reaping the promised benefits of automation, they’ve traded repetitive work for fixing broken bots and seen little real return on their RPA investment.

4 reasons RPA can’t be your whole automation strategy.

While RPA is an important component of any automation strategy, it’s just one technology. And like any technology, it has limitations. Many automation initiatives have failed because they were based solely on RPA—this approach stretches a single technology far beyond its realistic capabilities. Below are four areas where RPA falls short and needs support from other solutions or automation tools.

1. RPA isn’t suited for complex decision-making.

One reason why RPA is not enough to achieve end-to-end process automation is that it is limited to performing tasks that are highly structured and repetitive. It can't handle tasks that require more complex decision-making or judgment. This means that there will always be certain tasks that cannot be automated using RPA.

2. RPA relies on error-free underlying systems and processes.

In addition, RPA relies on the underlying systems and processes to function properly. If there are errors or inconsistencies in these systems, the bots will not be able to perform their tasks accurately. This can lead to errors and delays in the process, negating some of the benefits of automation.

3. RPA has difficulty adapting to change.

Another limitation of RPA is that it is not capable of adapting to change. If the underlying systems or processes change, the bots will need to be reprogrammed or replaced in order to continue functioning properly. This can be a time-consuming and expensive process. 

Tip: Needing to make changes to your bots to some extent is inevitable. So when you look for a process automation platform that offers RPA, consider looking for a low-code design experience, which makes building and adjusting bots much faster and easier.

4. RPA doesn’t address the root cause of inefficiencies. 

Finally, RPA doesn't address the root cause of inefficient processes. It simply automates the existing process, which may still be inefficient or outdated. In order to harness the full potential of automation, organizations need to take a more holistic approach that includes process redesign and optimization.

Don’t get us wrong. At Appian, we believe RPA has its place, and our customers run Appian RPA bots to automate repetitive work. But Appian RPA is part of a larger and complete suite of automation capabilities. It’s best suited for automating system interactions where other means aren’t available, such as in systems without API support or interactions with client applications. 

Organizations cannot achieve end-to-end automation without a complete suite of automation tools to cover all their needs. These include API integrations, artificial intelligence (AI), business rules, workflow orchestration, and, yes, even RPA. End-to-end automation is about unifying these automation technologies into holistic business processes that work with your human workforce to achieve real automation ROI.

We invite you to learn more and discover five best practices for RPA success in our guide.