Most of us are familiar with industrial automation. Robotic hands and other physical equipment doing the routine tasks, like welding the same spot again and again. Unlike human workers, these robots did the work consistently, hour after hour without getting tired.
RPA moves automation to the routine tasks in the office. Repetitive, rule-based processes, such as credit checks, submitting a government form and activating a mobile connection can be automated. Instead of physical robots, these office robots will be software robots that will do the work following the same sequence as human workers.
These robots take over only repeatable, rules-based tasks that is done exactly the same way every time. Where human elements such as empathetic personal interactions, judgements and interpretation are required, RPA's cannot take over (at least as of now).
While the RPA robots are software tools, they do not need any programming knowledge to use. Instead, users with practical experience of doing the process, such as checking credit, "train" the robot to do the work just as they do it. A major difference is that the robots do not look at the computer screen but access needed data from the system internally.
Benefits of RPA's
Businesses benefit by eliminating human errors and enhancing productivity. The software robots can do the work consistently, quickly and for hours and hours.
Employees benefit as they get to do more meaningful work, like personally supporting customers by listening carefully to their queries, finding right answers from relevant knowledgebase and helping the customer to solve the problem. This can improve the morale of workers who were doing a repetitive and boring task earlier.
Customers benefit from the "real" support they get, instead of being put on hold at the end of a phone line.
However, there is a general fear that automation will lead to loss of human jobs. All innovations have caused some disruption but generally tended to increase available jobs in other ways and lead to improved prosperity. The higher productivity, better customer service and improved work quality from the use of RPA's are likely to lead to more economic activity and jobs availability.
Range of RPA's
The robots come with different levels of "intelligence:"
Scripts and macros can automate simple rule-based tasks, as you might have noticed when working with say, Excel spreadsheets
First level RPA's can deal with complex rules and replicate human operator activities
Cognitive RPA's can read text, do "screen scraping," recognize voice and do natural language processing
"Deep-learning" RPA's can learn processes, generate documentation, make predictions and create priorities
It is by integrating RPA's with cognitive and AI platforms that their intelligence is increased.
The Market for RPA's
RPA's are just getting to be adopted by organizations. They are also improving in their capabilities by adding cognitive and AI capabilities. One estimate has it that the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the RPA market will be 60% per annum.
Considering the business benefits in such forms as higher productivity, lower costs and improved accuracy generated by RPA's, the estimates cannot be said to be too optimistic. Robotic Process Automation is indeed an excellent IT market to enter.