Intro to robotic process automation

An overview of robotic process automation (RPA): what it is, its different types and the evolution and current adoption of RPA

Robot Artificial Intelligence chat bot

The business world is always in flux. New technologies and strategies are released at what feels like the speed of light. One of those technologies receiving a lot of talk on blogs and social media is robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI). 

To help you wrap your arms around this emerging technology, I put together a high-level overview of the RPA landscape. 

RPA defined 

RPA is the use of machines to perform tasks with high precision at rapid intervals. Virtual robots (as opposed to the robots wandering in the Amazon warehouses) are used to perform automated steps in a process. A distinct aspect of virtual robots is that their actions are performed based on the end user perspective. This gives additional visibility into the viability of a software or process that a system monitoring tool would not address. Usually, these transactions are performed repetitively, and at high volumes, since the virtual robots are able to run 24/7. 

Types of RPA 

There are different uses and types of RPA in the market today. Large enterprises have seen cost savings by using a team of virtual robots to perform functions such as reading a claim form, categorizing it, and inputting it into another system. We’ll classify this as “working virtual robots.” 

Another type of virtual robot can be used for monitoring and quality assurance. These testing virtual robots don’t perform “work” or complete transactions, and instead monitor and point out issues in a process. For example, if a company has an e-commerce website, the virtual robot will continuously look for any slowness or breakdowns in the shopping experience, enabling IT organizations to turn from taking a reactive approach to a proactive one. 

Evolution of RPA 

Automation has been around for some time. Evolving over time, RPA started from simple screen scraping automation in the 1990s, to workflow automation, and finally gaining recording and scripting capabilities. The next phase of robotic automation is already leveraging AI and machine learning capabilities. 

Adoption of RPA 

Previously, robotic automation was only accessible to very large enterprises that wanted to address repetitive functions and cut costs. These enterprises would bring in global systems integrators to help with the programming and implementation of these virtual robots. Nowadays, as the technology continues to mature and gain popularity in its current form, the broader community is adopting virtual robots as the technology becomes mainstream. 

Estimates for the RPA market range from $200 to $300 million last year, to nearly $500 million currently. Over the next couple years, the market is expected to exceed $1 billion (per HfS Research). In fact, one estimate pegs just the North American RPA market at over $3.5 billion by 2024 (per Grand View Research). 

These numbers point to the growing number of capable providers and the increasing usage by companies that are finding value in virtual robots. The technology has clearly moved beyond the early adopters and “crossed the chasm.” 

Sourcing RPA 

Today, there are numerous vendors in the RPA landscape providing choice to customers. This group includes pure-play RPA software that is licensed, adjacent software companies that have added a RPA product or component to their software, consulting firms that help with assessments (business process management etc.) and implement the software (including programming, scripting, and testing), and full-service providers that offer RPA as a turn-key service. The breadth and maturity of the RPA landscape presents options, but also makes evaluation criteria a little more time consuming. 

Do you think this technology can be a fit for your business and want to learn more, but have no idea where to start? There are a large variety of resources available, and a good place to start is by simply Googling “virtual robots,” or search for information on SlideShare (via LinkedIn).

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