Robotic process automation (RPA) was one of the biggest technology trends in 2018. Since then, it has gained significance and become nigh essential in enterprise management. It is the fastest-growing enterprise technology and the core of hyperautomation.1
Technology leaders and business owners rave over its efficiency and label it a game-changer in industry. There is little doubt that RPA will continue to change the way businesses operate. It has proven to save them time, money, and resources, all while helping them better manage their work.
Though RPA has been deployed by several industries, and already benefits have been seen, worries circulate amongst the working class. Workers who fear losing their livelihoods are concerned that RPA will replace their jobs.
Hollywood and negative press have done little to help negate these fears, and instead, only accelerate the myth of machines taking over.
The truth is RPA is neither meant to nor is it designed to replace the human workforce. Rather, RPA is supposed to complement the workforce and drive its productivity.
To disband myths of a hostile RPA takeover, individuals entering the workplace or who want to feed their curiosity about robotics and the computer industry would do well to dive into the actual purpose and functionality of RPA.
The films which portray robots as walking, talking, independently thinking assemblages of electronics and metal are pure fiction. That is not RPA. RPA is not even a physical bot. It is not a physical presence which you can touch or that can complete manual labor.
RPA is actually a software code which can be programmed to perform rule-based tasks across multiple applications and processes without human intervention.
RPA systems create streamlined workflows through machine learning (ML). It is best suited for repetitive, high-volume activities, like email triggers and data scanning. In this manner, an RPA bot acts as a digital assistant.
A simple application of an RPA bot would be to assist a secretary with scanning and sorting emails into buckets as priority, vendor, personal, and spam. The bot can do this with the click of a button or at a set time each day. This saves the secretary time for manual or more complicated work.
Today, hundreds of industries have deployed RPA systems and reaped multiple benefits. RPA automates tasks and reduces human error and operational risk.
Anyone can understand: if you have to complete the same mundane action several times a day for several days at a time, it becomes tiresome, boring, and what is worse, if time is of the essence, and you feel rushed to complete, haste makes waste.
An RPA bot helps with that type of mind-numbing work. A bot does not get tired or bored; it gets the job done in a short amount of time, and the least you have to do is maybe double check its work for errors.
RPA can change the way people work and alter the performance of job functions. Some of its key benefits include increasing user efficiency and eliminating overtime. If an associate uses a bot to complete their low-value work, they in turn have more time for high-value work, like customer service.
This, of course, improves work satisfaction, and if personnel have more time to focus on consumers or partners, businesses will see a rise in customer and member satisfaction. This means RPA can indirectly improve the customer experience, having freed up high-value resources to work the front lines.
The consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, took a survey in 2015 and speculated that demonstrated technologies could automate 45 percent of the activities people are paid to perform and about 60 percent of all occupations could see 30 percent or more of their constituent activities automated.2
The truth is, without alarming the workforce, RPA can reduce staffing costs. Software bots cost less to operate and run than full-time employees, but rather than think “replacement,” think “assistant.” Again, RPA is a digital assistant, helping staff increase output and productivity.
In terms of cost, better still, RPA can integrate and leverage existing systems in a company the same way a human can. This saves an organization operation costs and makes the integration of RPA seamless.
Whether an enterprise wants to test RPA in one area of business, or integrate it throughout the entire company, across all its networks, the numbers will show in rapid succession just how cost efficient RPA is for the books.
Perfection is a matter of perception and nigh achievable. It is true, RPA can reduce human error and noise in statistics, and sometimes it can be 100% accurate; however, it is not perfect. RPA is a rule-based software. Its actions are governed by business logic and structured inputs that tell it how and when to complete tasks. Working off its coding, RPA deploys bots, each one programmed to automate a job in the system.
These jobs can vary and include transactions, trigger responses, manipulate data, move files, and communicate with other digital systems and applications. However, if the coding is wrong or broken, they will complete the work to the best of their ability, but with continual errors till the coding is fixed. This makes human workers necessary.
RPA is not yet capable of problem solving, creativity, human interaction, or any of the other human traits that make us capable of resolving issues.
Rather than replace us, RPA will create new opportunities for the human workforce. As companies continue to adopt RPA systems, there will be an emergence of new technical roles.
These roles will ensure the continued operation of RPA systems by running diagnostic checks, coding new tasks, and updating the systems as needed. No machine operates independently or indefinitely. It needs a human controller, someone with the skills and knowhow to configure its system and ensure operations.
Technical persons will always be essential as artificial intelligence (AI) and ML continue to evolve, and with the emergence of edge-computing, developers will be crucial. These technical personnel will either become a part of a company’s IT team or operate as part of an independent RPA/AI unit.
With RPA taking over simple, everyday tasks, staff have a rare opportunity to train up into new roles. Those personnel that were previously occupied with the actions assumed by RPA bots will now be able to shoulder new responsibilities and more important, valuable work that communicates their value to the company.
In this way, RPA can help personnel to focus on their professional growth and (hopefully) climb the ladder of success. So, again, RPA is meant to complement the workforce, not replace it.
As personnel become increasingly familiar with RPA, businesses will see the benefits of automation and continue to accelerate towards process digitalization. RPA is still in its early stages, but already it has made an impact for those organizations that adopted it.
The full capabilities of RPA have yet to be discovered, but it will be exciting to see how it continues to make a difference in the future of business. No doubt RPA will also integrate itself into personal lives, just as the most common technologies (e.g., the internet, computers, and touchscreen phones) have, and we all appreciate those tools.
RPA will change the way we work for the better, and humans should not fear a bot will take their job. So long as we keep open minds to change, success will be ensured.