Bots are a One Trick Pony, It’s Time to Push Automation Further

What’s needed is a more intelligent and holistic class of process automation that weaves together a combination of technology capabilities including RPA, machine learning, natural language processing, optical character reader, and other flavors of AI.

difficult to have a conversation about business automation without bringing up
the topic of robotic process automation (RPA). This technology has been in the
spotlight for a few years, and it continues to generate interest as more
businesses seek to improve mundane tasks quickly and with minimal disruption.

See also: Are You Getting the Best Results from RPA?

For those
of you not familiar with the technology, RPA solutions—also known as software
robots or bots—can be ‘trained’ and deployed at pace to handle the low-value
process components that dominate employees’ time. Well-suited to automating
repeatable and rule-based tasks, software robots log into applications and
systems to extract or edit information, read and write to databases, pull
content from the web, move documents and files around, and so forth.

A key
reason why RPA has risen in popularity is its ability to work at the presentation
layer of legacy systems in much the same way that human users do. This means
that RPA is non-intrusive, and there is no need for developers to code or
maintain application programming interface (API) integrations.

upshot? Teams save time, as routine tasks can be executed much faster, more
consistently, and accurately than before, with no room for human error.
Simultaneously, people are rescued from robotic work, allowing them to focus on
other areas of their roles that may add more strategic value to the business.

In the
pandemic era, business process roadblocks that have always existed have now
been amplified. Siloed legacy systems, slow manual approaches, and admin-heavy
workloads are more of a challenge than they ever were, due to budget pressures
and dispersed workforces. Many paper-based processes that sufficed before
COVID-19 are now impossible to carry out, due to social distancing and remote
working arrangements. 

Why RPA is
having its moment in the sun

to modernize and innovate ways of working, organizations’ attitudes towards
automation are shifting, as they acknowledge the need for technology solutions
that can be deployed rapidly to support remote teams and maintain operational

findings of a recent Harris Poll
survey revealed that 92% of business leaders recognize the need to
enable digital channels and process automation in the workplace. Reasons
include the fact that close to 50% are still using manual and paper-based
processes; and the fact that 59% are having challenges maintaining operational
efficiencies in a distributed environment. Businesses are prioritizing the
development of new, automated processes to address COVID-19 realities, connect
teams virtually, and support remote employees.

In this
context, RPA helps companies to automate manual tasks that rely on legacy
systems, without the need for major disruption to existing systems. This
approach appeals to a lot of companies who are scrambling to automate quickly
and solve pressing challenges.

exponential growth of RPA

Before the
pandemic, RPA was already a hot topic of conversation. During 2018, the robotic
process automation market expanded by 63.1% and was rated the fastest-growing
enterprise software category globally by analyst firm Gartner.

This year,
the momentum has continued. RPA software vendors have attracted substantial
investment during 2020, increasing awareness of this technology category.
Recent moves by global software corporations include Microsoft’s
acquisition of Softomotive to combine the RPA vendor’s desktop automation
solution with Microsoft’s Power Automate competencies; and IBM’s
acquisition of Brazilian RPA provider WDG Automation, which
advances IBM’s AI-augmented automation capabilities.

RPA start-up UiPath ranked second among the FT’s
fastest-growing companies in the Americas
, recently raised
$225 million
in a Series E round of funding, at a post-money valuation of $10.2

This is
certainly a boom period for RPA. Nevertheless, businesses must be wary about
getting caught up in the hype and losing sight of broader, sustained business
innovation goals. While RPA offers many tangible benefits, these are often
short-term fixes—and it can be challenging for businesses to scale up
automation in a stable and agile manner using RPA alone.

the pitfalls of RPA

While RPA
is a great choice for companies that want to achieve immediate automation wins,
it can be a one-trick pony. This is because RPA focuses on automating very
discrete tasks and helps solve defined problems, often more quickly than trying
to achieve broader end-to-end process automation or modernization.

RPA also
helps bridge across technology generations with minimal effort initially. But
it simply doesn’t provide the extensibility and rich functionality required to
tackle all operational roadblocks.

it’s important to understand that RPA isn’t an “orchestrator.” In
other words: while it can automate certain individual tasks within a process,
RPA is not focused on connecting each of those tasks into a fully optimized,
seamlessly orchestrated process. If a workflow includes the need for exception
handling and other human inputs or involves unstructured data, then RPA is the
wrong technology choice.

automation using RPA alone is often like encountering an iceberg. You see a
small tip of it floating above the waterline (the user interface), which is the
point you are automating. But beneath the waterline, there are many existing
investments in systems and data. Using RPA will often expose limits or
constraints in the underlying process that haven’t been fully digitized, and
which may not scale rapidly.

to deliver fully on the benefits of digital transformation over the long-term,
it’s important to invest in a full vision around digitizing a process. This
means identifying flaws in the end-to-end process and finding ways to
re-imagine it, rather than simply automating tasks as they exist. Unless
companies do things differently, they can’t expect to achieve a profoundly
different result.

As an
example, people love Amazon’s digital experience for shopping. However, this
experience is not the result of Amazon building the best mobile or web app.
Rather, this experience is made possible by the fact that Amazon has digitized
its entire supply chain, allowing for seamless shopping and same-day or
next-day delivery. The use of intelligent automation to create an end-to-end,
seamless digital process is the differentiating factor between Amazon and many
other retailers.


organizations are looking for more than efficiency gains and aim to vastly
improve the employee and customer experience, they need more than a
one-dimensional technology. The real value comes from a comprehensive and
integrated platform with multiple capabilities.

The Harris
found that 36% of companies across regions are having difficulty
meeting customer satisfaction goals. Nearly all those companies (92%)
acknowledge that effective use of process automation and digital transformation
is key to addressing this aspect of their business. True digital transformation
can’t be achieved through static task automation alone. What’s required is a
system that can take the benefits of automation further by orchestrating all
the different pieces of a complex process and providing actionable insights on
the various process components. This type of approach supports agile business
decision making and allows companies to adjust and pivot processes for maximum
efficiency and value in the current volatile environment.

outcomes can be achieved with a modern and intelligent business process
management platform, such as a low-code digital process automation (DPA)
system. This can easily integrate with RPA and more advanced technologies to
build a fully digitally-enabled business. This type of approach also brings
humans into the loop during various processes, to support seamless
human-machine collaboration.

Taking a
holistic approach to automation

The time
to think beyond short-term time and cost savings is now. What’s needed is a
more intelligent and holistic class of process automation that weaves together
a combination of technology capabilities—from RPA to machine learning, natural
language processing, optical character reader, and other flavors of AI. This
will enable companies to transform more processes, solve more challenges,
reinvent the customer experience, and pivot their business models to suit the
new requirements of the pandemic era.

A move
towards platforms that execute entire business processes with agility and
intelligence is likely to shape the RPA industry of the future. We could very
well see the other major cloud platforms, including Amazon and Google,
following in Microsoft and IBM’s footsteps to acquire or build RPA capabilities
to round out their AI competencies. 

In the
years ahead, business resiliency and adaptiveness will become more important
than pure efficiency – and perspectives on RPA and automation, in general, are
expected to evolve accordingly.

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