In a recent report by Transparency Market Research titled “IT Robotic Automation Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2014 - 2020,” it is predicted the robotic process automation (RPA) market will be nearly $5 billion in 2020, an increase from just shy of $1 billion in 2013. This represents a compounded annual growth rate of more than 60 percent, which makes RPA one of the fastest growing sectors of the operational technology industry. RPA is already making a great impact on the way many companies execute business processes, but these staggering figures suggests the transformation delivered by RPA is poised to have massive influence on the way companies conduct their operational and transactional processes.
But even with this mass proliferation of RPA software, questions often remain about the value proposition of RPA implementation - how RPA software actually increases efficiency and productivity, as well as the nuances of implementation and the overall impact across a company’s value chain.
To help cut through the complexity of RPA strategy and implementation, we’ll address some of the most frequently asked questions regarding RPA in order to tackle common concerns about what processes can be automated, the expected results and benefits, and the future development and evolution of RPA software.
Q: What processes are the best fit for RPA automation?
One of the benefits of RPA is it can be used to automate tasks in any industry, including insurance, healthcare, banking and financial services, procurement, supply chain management, and manufacturing. While many of the tasks in these industries vary in their outcomes, they also have commonalities that make them suitable for automation. Some of the back office tasks ideal for automation:
Are repetitive and consistent. These activities remain fixed over time and are not variable. Robots follow rules, so the tasks for automation should consist of unambiguous steps taken in a defined manner each time. Examples include data entry and migration, payroll, accounts payable, and more general copy-paste and swivel-chair tasks.
Don’t require constant human intervention. While robots can be stopped in the middle of a process and will alert human employees when reaching an exception, the most ideal processes are those that can be entirely automated. This will lead to the most effective results, such as cost reduction and increased productivity, in the shortest possible timetable.
Are high-volume and time-consuming. Processes, such as orders and claims processing, that require a large investment of time and effort on behalf of your employees, as well as those that are the most burdensome for your organization, are ones that warrant and justify RPA implementation.
Q: What results can I expect from implementing RPA?
Menial and repetitive business tasks take up a significant amount of an employee’s time. Upon automation of these processes, much of this time is freed to focus on higher value tasks that involve complex decision making, such as developing customer relationships. But what exactly about RPA allows this to happen? The most significant payoffs provided by automation include:
Reduced costs. According to the Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA), RPA can reduce costs by 25-50% since robots typically cost about one-third of an offshore full-time employee and one-fifth of an onshore full-time employee.
Consistent quality. Because RPA software robots act in a consistent manner, tasks that are automated will have an increased accuracy, allowing for substantial risk mitigation. Robots will be able to streamline tasks flawlessly and execute it in the same way every time.
Increased efficiency. RPA software robots are able to work around the clock, 24/7/365. There is no need for them to take breaks during the weekend or on holidays. Coupled with increased speed and decreased cycle time, this can provide optimized back office performance in a very short amount of time.
Q: How will RPA work within my company long-term?
One reason to implement RPA within your company is scalability. Order processing or accounts payable workflows, for example, can be replicated or reused across different business departments and between locations. In addition, the number of active robots can be scaled up or down quickly with little to no additional cost. Scaling your robotic workforce can be a permanent development to match the growth of your company, but robots can also be scaled temporarily to meet business demand during a specific window. Companies may experience increased demand for robotic workforces during peak times - holidays, end of the quarter, etc. - when more order processing is required. Temporary scalability is also useful when a more active robotic workforce can process extra transactions during new product or service release.
In fact, according to the IRPA, “Separating scalability from human resources allows a company to handle short-term demand without extra recruiting or training...management will be more effective because RPA makes it easy to maintain a scalable infrastructure. In short, it’s easier to scale software than it is people."
This is especially true when compared to maintaining employee levels to match fluctuations of business demands. Increasing or decreasing your number of robots is much more cost-effective and efficient than having to hire and release employees.
Q: What does the future of RPA look like?
Current value propositions aside, it’s important to consider the future developments and advancements in RPA capabilities. Today, robotic software is rules-based and exceptions require human intervention for resolution. But are RPA software robots capable of completing cognitive tasks? What would the collaboration between RPA and more intelligent solutions, such as artificial intelligence, entail? With the contribution of cognitive algorithms and machine learning, RPA will be able to adapt to more complex situations, independently correcting errors and applying judgment. While transactional processes are the current focus of automation technology, the convergence of RPA with AI is on the near horizon.
In whitepaper titled “Automate This,” Deloitte suggests, the merge of RPA and AI is expected to happen in three areas: within the market, across solutions, and among processes. The whitepaper goes on to argue that “These systems could operate as the ‘heart and lungs’ of an organization, taking in key data inputs and performing all of the internal processes that are core to the business.”
The abilities of both RPA and cognitive products will be combined into a single solution that will allow tasks to be automated in an adaptive and responsive way to maximize business outcomes. The software robots will be able to analyze elaborate activities just like a human employee in order to deliver superior performance and a more valuable customer experience.
Q: What’s Next?
As you can see, the questions surrounding the efficacy of RPA are critical in understanding how this technology can serve as value proposition for companies to operate as lean and productive as possible. In addressing common concerns, you should have a deeper understanding of the benefits RPA offers companies in achieving streamlined processes. While RPA may still be in its early stages, it’s already come a long way and many companies are already seeing substantial benefits from its implementation. Business activities that previously hindered productivity can now be automated to allow for a significant increase in resources and revenue, and RPA has an even more promising future ahead, especially with intelligent technologies leading the way in the next major step in automation capabilities.
Nick Ostdick is a Digital Content Strategist.