“Man is a robot with defects.” – Emil Cioran – (1911 – 1995), Romanian philosopher and essayist
To err is human. When automation fails, it is typically a human’s fault somewhere in the chain. As we remove errors, look to do more with less, and generally go faster, robots and other automation can help us to succeed. However, taking the first step into the next generation of automation should not be taken for granted. Here’s a brief primer.
What is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation is the next generation of automation, a step beyond programmer-developed business applications. Along a continuum, RPA is an early stage in the world of artificial intelligence.
- Machine Code – computer language consisting of binary or hexadecimal instructions which a computer can respond to directly
- 2nd Level Programming Code – a ‘string based’ language that is easy to read, write, and maintain, and can be compiled into Machine Code
- Robotic Process Automation – a ‘process based’ language that enables easy development and implementation
- Machine Learning – computer algorithms that can improve automatically through experience
- Artificial Intelligence – the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions
Yes, it is all computerization. However, in today’s environment we tend to skip past the first two levels when talking about ‘automation.’ They are important and sometimes may even be the more simple, cost-effective solution instead of robotics.
Why look to Robots?
RPA has many applications from transferring data between systems to reconciling files or reports. It can be used to retrieve information en-masse from websites, run a billing cycle, or support customers through online chat. RPA can provide several benefits. Robots can improve quality and reliability, improve cost efficiencies, scale to support processes, and ensure consistency. In addition, they can:
- Reduce employee focus on mundane repeatable tasks
- Elevate employee focus on analysis
- Decrease cost through process improvement, efficiency improvements, and headcount reduction
- Raise process efficiencies and decrease time-to-deliver
- Reduce error rates and re-work
- Build human experience for more complex automation
Who watches the Robots?
An effective RPA operation requires oversight. No, its not that the robots will take over while we are not watching. However, humans need to remain diligent in driving the right robot to the right challenge, with the right tools, and subsequently measuring the effectiveness of the solution. A governance function should be formed to provide guidance and steering, and help the organization focus on priorities, policies, implementation, and the development of metrics. The governance team should be made up of a cross-section of operational stakeholders that can assess and mitigate risks, drive compliance, and control automation with appropriate controls. The governance team should not be filled with information technology wonks.
Is RPA right for every need?
The short answer is No. RPA is not ideal for many operational needs. However, if one follows a simplified decision process (like the one illustrated here), the choice of RPA (or other solution) becomes a bit more transparent.
The philosopher Cioran was a pessimist. If you are an optimist, or at least cautiously pragmatic, then you’ll want to start your RPA venture on the right foot. Are you confident in choosing the right vendor solution, choosing the right processes to start with, developing an objective use case selection method, or cost justifying your next steps? Transforming Solutions can help with these answers and more. Feel free to reach out and see how we can make your RPA delivery more effective. Or, check out our Process Improvement service offering.