It's official, Robotics Process Automation (RPA) has survived the hype cycle and is now one of the leading disruptive technologies of 2017. In other words, RPA is not just a thing of the future, it's a proven technology and already up and running in many organizations. There is a good reason for this. Today, organizations are under pressure to digitize and innovate faster than ever, and automation is one of the key ways to achieve this. To put the market potential into perspective, earlier this year McKinsey released a report stating that 51% of total employment in the US can be automated, while Gartner predicted that the RPA software market would grow 40% year-over-year through 2020.
Simply put, if you aren't at least considering implementing RPA in your organization, you will be left behind. Why? A lot of people (including your competitors) are already doing it. According to the 2016 Dart RPA Benchmarking Survey, only 35% of the SSC respondents had not started RPA efforts, while the remaining 65% had already either implemented it (19%), in the process of testing (22%) or planning to implement (24%).
And it’s not just the province of large companies. According to a recent Everest Research Group survey, while 66% of the companies using and implementing RPA are considered “large enterprises,” 34% of those utilizing RPA are “small to mid-sized enterprises” (less than $1B in revenue). RPA is making its presence felt across all businesses, and that presence will be growing.
Doing something because everyone else is doing it is not necessarily a good enough reason for you to make a significant change to your business. The competitive benefits RPA could bring to your organization are many, and in today's rapidly changing technology and services landscape, you simply must become more lean and efficient to stay ahead. Some of the benefits RPA provide include:
- Increased Capacity, Cost Savings & Speed: On average, one robot is the equivalent of at least three FTE’s, and at a fraction of the cost. Robots work 24x7x365, more than tripling the capacity and productivity of a “human worker.” The cost of one robot can be 10% to 33% of its human counterpart. Plus “bots” work at peak processing speed, often processing transactions in seconds compared to minutes with “human workers.” Add it all up, and RPA drives significant performance improvement and cost reduction in your back office.
- Greater Quality & Control: Improves accuracy and compliance by eliminating human errors and recording every action in a process. Once a robot is properly configured and tested, its accuracy should be 100%. This eliminates rework and improves overall quality, governance and control in the back office.
- Scalability and Flexibility: Easy to scale up or down as your organization evolves. Additional robots can be deployed easily and quickly, without the training and ramp up needed by humans. Keep in mind that robots can be deployed across multiple processes and functions (just not at the same time).
- Non-Intrusive Innovation: RPA runs on top of existing IT systems and infrastructure and requires no system integration, only user access. RPA is much easier and less costly to implement than most computer systems and requires only limited support from often overtaxed IT departments.
- Analytics: RPA Software provides detailed performance data, increasing visibility to process performance and helps to facilitate continuous improvement programs.
- Increased Focus: Human workforce can be redeployed to more strategic, higher value activities to enable business growth.
While we are still discovering new applications for RPA, many firms have already deployed it across a range of back office functions including Finance & Accounting, Human Resources, Customer Service and IT. While there will certainly be more ways to apply RPA when artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive analytics are leveraged, there are quite a large number of tasks that it is already being used for, including:
- Repetitive keyboard/mouse tasks users perform in Windows
- Mass email generation, follow-ups, tracking, archiving and extracting
- Conversion of data formats, graphics and presentation preparation
- Data reading, data entry and importing/exporting information
- Database creation, retrievals, connections and forms and queries
- File transfers from the Internet, reading and updating standard Web pages
- ERP transactions, image downloading and mass changes
- Process workflows, lists, trackers and identifying file storage that needs to be improved or implemented
- Surveys, automated team collaboration, approvals and data validation
- Automated PDF reading and forms filling
- Reporting, calculations and data analysis
Watch this quick demo for a real-world example of RPA in action.
First, with more transactional processes that don't require empathy, judgment or subjectivity like the tasks listed above. That said, this doesn't mean that you should not prepare for the advances in AI and machine learning that will make robots "smarter" and capable of more complex activities. That's the next phase for the masses, and it's already being utilized in larger and best in class enterprises.
While the end results and benefits seem simple enough, implementing RPA can have a dark side by creating another level of complexity to an already complicated environment if not done right. By utilizing RPA to perform transactional work previously performed by humans, you likely will lose the knowledge and experience of that transactional work. If an issue with a robot occurs, you will need to be able to quickly identify and address the issue without impacting back office performance and deadlines. If you’re not careful, RPA can quickly turn from an opportunity to a problem.
That's why working with an RPA advisor or Managed Service Provider is highly recommended. An experienced RPA expert can provide a strong implementation and management methodology, helping you identify where RPA makes sense, and providing realistic expectations on the operational performance and cost savings benefits that you can realize. The ideal RPA partner should help you ensure an effective implementation by capturing all of the activities within a process, establishing the proper business rules, and providing you with guidance on the ongoing monitoring and administrative support that will be needed to guarantee continuing performance. This RPA partner can also help you define the roadmap for your future use of the platform, providing you with opportunities for continuous improvement as the technology advances.
Don’t look at RPA as a “project”; consider it an integral part of your future back office operation. It requires investment, rigorous planning and testing, as well as ongoing oversight and administration. Often companies are unprepared for the journey, but once they get on the road, the benefits are worth the trip.
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