Process automation is nothing new. Business leaders have sought out opportunities to achieve greater operating efficiencies since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Robots are hardly new either. For years we've seen them transform the manufacturing floor through the automation of manual and repetitive tasks.

Now, however, we're on the verge of robots driving transformation beyond the manufacturing floor to change the workplace as dramatically as the machines of the industrial revolution. But this sea of change is not reserved solely for large companies. Entities of all shapes and sizes will need to understand the automation capabilities available, and on the horizon, to enhance efficiencies and remain competitive.

Robotic Process Automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) essentially takes the robot out of the human. Most back-office processes involve varying degrees of routine, manual and repetitive tasks that are low value and generally uninteresting to the employee. RPA is a software solution that mimics the activity of a human being but in a much more efficient, effective and accurate manner.

RPA isn't necessarily a new technology. Innovative organizations have been deploying RPA over the past several years, yet, the scale, speed and cost at which RPA is being deployed today is indeed transformative.

Recent research from PWC estimates that 45% of work activities can be automated, saving roughly $2 trillion in costs throughout the global workforce. Additionally, a recent Deloitte study explains that one robot is said to be able to do the work of two to three resources and costs anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. This could result in ROI as high as 200 percent in the first year alone. However, besides simply reducing costs, business leaders are achieving a number of other tangible benefits:

  • Transformative Change: Re-engineer core processes while driving functional automation
  • Flexibility & Scalability: 24/7 operations with the ability to quickly be deployed to handle increased demand
  • New Competencies: Relieving employees of the most onerous tasks, allowing them to refocus on higher-value activities
  • Compliance & Controls: Ensuring accuracy and enhancing controls through standardized rules

Also adding to the attractiveness, RPA solutions can be deployed on a smaller scale in a matter of weeks. Doing so will have a minimal impact on legacy systems and require little involvement and continued support from the IT department. Employees in operations can quickly learn how to configure, deploy and manage robots in their department.

Given the potential ROI and relative ease of implementation, companies of all shapes and sizes are gravitating toward RPA. The finance and accounting department is a typical starting point, having a number of repetitive, rules-based transactional processes. Deploying RPA in this area can help drive down costs and enhance quality of the finance function. More mature organizations, however, have applied RPA across other major business processes with transactional activity, including marketing, customer service and payroll administration.

Intelligent Automation

While RPA is being deployed today on larger and larger scales, the next generation of technology is already here. Intelligent Automation (IA), enabled by cognitive technology, has even more massive transformational potential as we look toward the next several years.

IA applications combine advanced cognitive technology, robotic automation and powerful analytics to deliver more human-like capabilities — such as the ability to learn, apply judgement, and recognize images and language. These advanced solutions can process unstructured commands and sift through massive amounts of information to discern patterns and relationships, continuously learning throughout its life. Whereas RPA can replace the arms and legs of workers, IA has the capability to replace the entire worker.

It's imperative for businesses to manage growth systematically, giving adequate attention to scalability of processes and technologies to guard against creating "silo" applications. RPA and IA applications offer businesses a solution to join disjointed organizations, bring order to chaos and drive efficiency to all-time highs.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.