What’s new about Robotic Process Automation? Why is it even called that?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

RPA is by no means a new phenomenon, but it is a relatively new term that covers a gamut of technologies. Broadly RPA happens when something a human could do themselves manually on a computer is performed automatically. The ‘robot’ is merely an agent that exists within an IT environment that performs pre-designed sequences of actions without human operation.

When new technologies arrive on the scene, terminology is often created to describe the innovation’s essential function. Sometimes the best tech neologisms are built out of the familiar, hence why commonplace words like ‘net’, ‘post’ and ‘thread’ have changed their meanings and are used in new ways within the last 20 years; and others like ‘surf’ have even had time to come to prominence and exit the lexicon just as swiftly.

Automation is not new

As for Automation, it is a technological thread that is woven into the fabric of the Industrial Revolution. The very earliest manifestations of industrialisation were all examples of process optimisation and automation – the spinning jenny and the power loom that we half-remember from history lessons – were massively disruptive to existing industrial patterns and economic realities by drastically shortening processes while even improving quality through mechanical automations.

I first personally dealt with process automation over 15 years ago in the financial markets trade order management space. Where previously transactions for financial instruments (e.g. Shares) were handled entirely by human traders, orders could be partially or completely fulfilled by automated ‘algorithmic trading’ tech. Large orders were broken up by the algo into thousands of smaller trades and sent into the market where they could be filled. The algos would typically do a better job than the humans by completing the trade order quicker and at a better average price than a human could have achieved.

Different situations and environments call for different technologies; the next time I encountered RPA was analysing and automating repeated processes inside call centres. By saving 30 seconds per call on average through automation, we were able to save hundreds of thousands of hours, improve call handle time, quality and customer experience at the same time.

Automation for better experiences

Today’s automation platforms reach beyond even this, requiring less manual analysis and capable of interacting with multiple disparate systems and data sources.

For example, think about what happens when you book tickets online for a show. You have to discover that the show is happening, when and where, pull in data from your diary and possibly those of others, coordinate diaries, fill in booking forms and complete credit card information, add the event to diaries, book transportation, possibly dinner and a hotel room. Now imagine that you had automated the entire process so that one afternoon, when tickets are announced, your AI assistant informs you and asks if you want to go and who else to invite. From there, the whole thing is taken care of for you and you are just asked about relevant options when they come up (dinner preferences, standard or superior seating). This is an example of a goal-oriented AI conducting and connecting, understanding context towards an overall aim.

Enterprise wide value

It is truly exciting to translate this kind of technical capability across an Enterprise-level organisation. In our most recent client engagements, Digital Works Group have been impressed by the current state-of-the-art AI-enabled automation platforms. Take for example, Process Analysis. On some occasions this type of analysis used to take days to perform and typically this would involve looking at how key processes involving Enterprise systems, such as SAP, are run and then manually mapping each process. Today, an ‘agent’ can swiftly work these out and identify each one, meaning they can be seen end-to-end, analysed for inefficiencies, bottlenecks or potential quality issues. A big saving on time and a far more efficient process to determine the right processes!

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Automation Proves Robotic Hands Make Light Work

Investment that pays off

This is a very broad-brush view just to fire your imagination on what RPA could do for you. But by implementing Robotic Process Automation across an Enterprise where it counts, means huge productivity, efficiency and quality gains can be made. Where ROI is concerned, this kind of deployment typically pays for itself in months; but it also fits the ‘data-driven’ paradigm in a very tangible and achievable way.

Being a “data-driven organisation” is very on trend in the 2020s. But is yours actually data-driven? In which case, do you have a data strategy that fits the bill? Have you thought about data and metadata quality, availability and integrity?

In order for this kind of initiative to add value it should be done with a strategy in mind and within a predetermined set of compliance and ethical guardrails where AI automated decision making is concerned. At Digital Works Group we have developed far-reaching Data Strategies for national governmental departments, and other businesses. If you are contemplating this kind of initiative or would like to get the conversation started within your leadership and need a framework and modus operandi for all things Data, AI and Automation, drop me a line.

Rafael Bloom
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