Robotic Process Automation: the Future is Now.

What is 'Robotic Process Automation'? And will robots take our jobs? If you’ve heard the term (RPA) and are wondering what it’s all about – look no further. 

We interviewed Raheem Hasan, President and Co-Founder of The Institute for Robotic Process Automation (or IRPA) and discovered there's a lot to it – and that we shouldn’t (all) worry that robots will take away our jobs.

What is Robotic Process Automation and how does it help businesses?

RPA, deals with “smart software” and applying this intelligent software to do high-volume, repeatable tasks that are usually time-consuming and mundane for human beings. Both large and small businesses can use Robotic Process Automation to expedite back-office tasks in a variety of contexts: in insurance, finance, procurement, supply chain management, accounting, customer service, and human resources. The types of activities that are commonly automated include: data entry, issuing purchase orders, creating online access credentials, and business processes that require “swivel-chair” access to multiple existing systems.

Are robotic process automation technologies all the same?

There is a big difference between what is currently available - and what is currently proven. One type of technology is desktop automation. Here, the robot software sits on the desktop and automates specific tasks/activities. A second type is more robust end-to-end process automation. In this case, the robots may sit in a data centre and interact between multiple systems doing tasks that could include self-learning, self-healing, cognitive computing or artificial intelligence. 

What are the 3 most common misconceptions about RPA? 

There’s quite a bit of sci-fi madness out there surrounding RPA - including discussions about whether robots could take over the world - but the more real misconceptions are that 1) Robotic process automation is nothing more than scripting 2) It’s the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 20 years and 3) this is just traditional automation. I can tell you – it’s none of the above.  In fact, we’ve written an eBook specifically to dispel these misconceptions – and sort out the hype from the facts. The biggest difference is that while traditional automation completes rules-based, repeatable tasks, RPA goes a step further. Dubbed the “automation of automation,” it combines automation with the adaptability and awareness of artificial intelligence. This technology is able to learn and respond to problems that would have stumped traditional automation software. With this adaptability and awareness, Robotic Process Automation is capable of automating activities that once required human judgment.
Are people really afraid of ‘robots’ taking their jobs? And, if so, how would you reassure them? 
Yes, people are concerned and rightly so - according to McKinsey and Company, automation software will replace up to 140 million full-time employees worldwide by the year 2025, BUT many higher skilled jobs will be created for those who are able to maintain and improve RPA software. The jobs that are at risk are IT infrastructure, network or datacenter support positions as well as application development and maintenance jobs. On the business operations side, entry level data roles may also be affected. Robotic Process Automation will definitely impact outsourcing as intelligent automation takes on the work of repetitive mundane tasks. The way to prepare for this technological advance is to get educated in order to be ahead of the curve – not behind it.  ATM’s were a threat to tellers jobs when they first came into play – but the job of the teller didn’t go away – it became more sophisticated. Today, bank tellers are able to focus on having more meaningful and valuable customer interactions because they aren’t bogged down with the tasks that ATMs can handle – and handle more quickly.
What are the three most interesting uses of RPA and what difference has it made (e.g. to business/life)? 
One interesting example is a European Insurance company who migrated 30 different insurance systems to a single platform. It would have been a mammoth task for humans to move every policy that was up for renewal to the new integrated platform. Robotic Proccess Automation did it at a fraction of the cost and time.
Another example is the processing of documents including orders. A multinational distribution and outsourcing company used process automation to reduce their costs per order by 64%, while reducing automation costs by 20% and staff headcount by 58% according to this case study excerpt.
In this third example, a major commercial bank applied autonomics and learning algorithms to its 5,000 databases. Within the first six months the bank needed only 50% of its original headcount to do the job. It increased efficiency and productivity and resulted, ultimately, in a 60% cost saving.
What’s next for the future of processing and automation? And what can people do NOW to prepare themselves for the future?
Because this technology tracks and monitors all the tasks that it automates, it enables companies to comply with regulations, and  deeply analyse company processes. Some RPA software can adapt, self-learn, and self-correct - making the possibility for future optimisation even greater. 
Robotic Process Automation isn't a future thing. It's a NOW thing.


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