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The robotic revolution: How RPA is changing work

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“I’m craving children nuggets so hard.”

We’ve all been the victim of poor automation—like when auto-correct replaces “chicken” with “children” and horrifies your friend on the other end of that text.

But automation has also been revolutionary in our lives, saving time on rote and mundane daily tasks—everything from auto-pay on the monthly water bill to sorting our email by sender and topic. And this type of efficiency, especially the more sophisticated enterprise automation known as robotic process automation (RPA) – can bring huge benefits to the workplace as well.

It’s time to learn more about it and how it can help you.

What is RPA?

RPA is often confused with robotics, artificial intelligence and many other technological advances. Simply put, RPA is software used to reduce or eliminate manual efforts. This third-party software sits on top of your existing business systems, interacting and executing processes, acting just like a human might.

The software automates those repetitive operations most businesses are full of – such as billing, coding invoices, sending reminders, etc. – by building automated workflows of those processes. RPA uses software “robots” that can read and write within the user interface of your current systems. These robots can then manipulate data, generate a response and communicate with other systems.

In contrast with artificial intelligence (AI), which seeks to simulate human intelligence, RPA simply imitates human actions. If AI is more about thinking and learning, RPA is just about “doing.”

Even as an emerging technology, RPA is growing rapidly and many software providers are available, including Automation Anywhere, OpenSpan, UiPath, BluePrism, WorkFusion, and many others. This growing number of players allows your enterprise to truly customize the solution to your unique needs.

How will RPA help my business?

The list of benefits of RPA is growing as well. In addition to the time-saving potential, that efficiency almost always brings a large decrease in operational costs. Brian Shannon, SVP of Strategy and Operations for the Americas at Serrala, explained to CIO the value he sees in RPA:

“There is a critical need for RPA in many finance functions … due to pressures to increase back-office performance. Automation of simple processing tasks like coding invoices based on historical data or sending reminders for pending actions can be performed by bots. Since these back-office functions are repeatable and predictable, bots are the perfect fit for the job.”

Consider these additional benefits:

  • Improved customer satisfaction – Humans are, well, human, and you may currently be tolerating minor errors because you don’t have adequate resources to correct them. RPA can eliminate those errors and thereby improve the customer experience.
  • Uninterrupted processing – The bots won’t need a bathroom or smoke break, and can work through the night if there’s still tasks that need to be completed.
  • Fully auditable – Everything the software does is documented, ensuring you have a complete and auditable record of all interactions.
  • Improved employee satisfaction – RPA eliminates low-value work and frees your people to focus on work that brings a higher degree of gratification.

Are the robots coming for our jobs?

Of course, just the mention of robotics often stokes fears of machines stealing our jobs. This is inevitable and has always been the case with any advance in technology. But instead of replacing, I believe RPA will just create a new evolution in the jobs that get filled. Advances like these usually mean the creation of new classes of jobs, some of which we haven’t yet predicted. After all, 15 years ago no one knew “social media manager” or “app developer” would be legitimate (and plentiful) positions today.

Because RPA allows your staff to spend less time on repetitive administrative tasks and more time on complex, thoughtful (and, well, human) tasks, we’re likely to see a big growth in jobs that demand a higher degree of cognitive skills.

Keep in mind that implementing RPA into your business requires proper guidance on its design and governance if you hope to achieve the level of benefit that’s possible. That’s where a solid IT partner comes in; look for an outside vendor familiar with all the available RPA providers and who knows how to choose the appropriate solution for your industry and strategic goals. (And many times, that means a coordinated effort of a few different automation providers.)

The time is right to begin exploring how this next generation of automation can truly change the future of our work.

Mike Gowan is the vice president of the commercial market at Veracity Consulting, a tech consulting team of problem-solvers and truth-tellers who deliver customized IT solutions for commercial and government clients across the U.S. Share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter @engageveracity.