During the last few years, robotic process automation (RPA) has emerged as one of the most innovative and disruptive technology tools companies can leverage to save time, money, and resources through the automation of back offices processes and repetitive, menial tasks. Yet, even with all the buzz surrounding the widespread deployment of RPA across a number of industries, a number of misconceptions still abound about RPA and how it can streamline a company’s operational platform and enhance overall productivity.
These misunderstandings about how RPA works, its impact on companies and their employees, and the future evolution of this technology can create uncertainty and even fear for companies looking to revolutionize their back office strategies and facilitate a more lean value chain.
To truly understand the value proposition RPA offers companies, as well as debunk some misinformation, here are five of the most common RPA myths and the truths behind them.
Myth #1: Robots will replace humans
It’s certainly true many business tasks previously performed by human employees can now be automated with RPA. And some might argue with the additional rise of cognitive technologies, the capabilities for robots to replicate human-like functions are only increasing. Yet, artificial intelligence (AI) still needs training from humans. These technologies are therefore not entirely independent from humans nor are they currently able to reproduce the higher-level thinking of which humans are capable.
At the same time, the human workforce will certainly be augmented by RPA implementation but in a way that will benefit both companies and their employees. RPA allows employees to increase their efficiency and productivity, and employees will be able to focus on higher-level activities, such as sales or marketing, that create business value and foster deeper engagement with customers. In deploying RPA, employee roles are often redefined and talent is reallocated to focus on customer facing tasks in the front office since there is no longer a need to focus on tedious, back office tasks.
Myth #2: RPA software robots are 100% accurate
Unlike what is commonly suggested, RPA software robots are capable of making mistakes. As suggested by the Deloitte whitepaper “Automate This,” “robots have no ‘common sense,’ so if a flaw in your organization's robot management process allows an obvious error to creep into the instructions provided to your robots, they will still follow those instructions to the letter — and replicate the error hundreds or thousands of times until someone spots it.”
Because RPA software robots act in a consistent manner, they will replicate mistakes that are present in a workflow. Unless detected early in the automation process by human employees, these errors might mean the work will need to be redone, either manually or by re-automating tasks after the mistakes have been fixed. In order to avoid these problems, it’s important to ensure processes are optimized and error-free before automation and to monitor the software robots in the initial stages of automation.
Myth #3: RPA marks the end of business process outsourcing (BPO)
Instead of being replaced by RPA, BPO providers are using the software to their advantage to provide more timely and effective services to their customers. Even as RPA develops, the need for outsourcing will still exist, especially since not all front-office tasks can be automated with RPA. For this reason, BPOs are here to stay.
As with other service providers, BPOs are expected to constantly provide the best services in order to maintain a competitive advantage in the market. And RPA is becoming a more attractive option for BPO providers to do so.
RPA provides BPOs with the opportunity to reduce costs, increase efficiency and accuracy, improve compliance and analytics, and obtain higher client retention and satisfaction. Rather than marking the end of BPO, RPA is innovating and transforming the nature of BPO providers.
Myth #4: RPA will not work in my industry
There’s a common misconception that RPA is only productive in certain industries, such as finance. However, back office tasks exist in every industry, meaning that the range of industries in which RPA is productive is much wider than possibly expected. RPA can be applied to almost any repetitive, rules-based, high-volume business activity in any industry.
RPA can be used, for example, to manage order processing in the retail, claims processing in the insurance industry, fraud detection by banks, communication with customers in the manufacturing industry, and even patient scheduling in the healthcare industry.
Myth #5: RPA is not worth the cost investment
Organizations are constantly trying to find new ways to reduce costs and have, in the past, commonly turned to outsourcing to execute business processes. Recently, more and more companies are turning to RPA in order to automate their back office in house. RPA does have initial implementation costs, but these are typically not significant compared to the often prohibitive costs that accompany business process management software (BPMS) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation.
At the same time, RPA provides rapid internal cost reduction and significant increases in ROI. For example, PwC argues that “While a number of solution options exist, RPA offers a superior customer experience and dramatic error reduction, providing significant cost and efficiency benefits in short timeframes. Being relatively simple to implement, RPA can deliver benefits quickly and ROIs of between 300 – 800% are common.”
As you can see, the myths and misinformation surrounding RPA can be a complex pain point for companies considering strategies to streamline their business and operational processes and enhance productivity.
An understanding of the fundamentals of RPA and its useful in these endeavors in key for companies to remain competitive and relevant within their industry. Just how exactly these myths arose—be it due to shortage of common knowledge on the technology or a lack of exposure to its use—is difficult to pinpoint, but companies that understand the truths behind these misconceptions will be well positioned to reap the benefits of RPA deployment, particularly as this technology continues to permeate more industries and brings widespread transformation and disruption to the way companies structure their operations platform.
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Nick Ostdick is a Digital Content Strategist.