Digital Transformation Will your business be affected by the RPA?

Every technological change brings with it fears, opportunities and transformations.

Among the best known, we find printing which (among other things) replaced manual copying and marked the disappearance of copyists, tractors which deprived draught horses of their last utilitarian role, driving them to the brink of extinction, and the digital camera which almost replaced the analogue camera and contributed to the bankruptcy of the company which saw its birth (Kodak)! There are many examples and it is legitimate to ask the question about the RPA as well.  

The answer is not as obvious as we might think!

The RPA today

These are mainly software robots that can stand on the user’s shoulder (i.e. “see” the screen) and control the keyboard or mouse to automate business tasks.

If the user can do it with their PC, their eyes and their hands then so can the RPA… in theory. In practice, automated tasks will be characterised by their repetitive, simple and fully decidable aspects, i.e. tasks for which the power of human judgement is not required.

From the end-user’s point of view, these robots relieve them of tedious tasks, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, more quickly, without fatigue, with fewer errors and more or less on demand! This frees up time for the customer or for work on higher value-added tasks.

From the point of view of the ISD, RPA facilitates the automation of tasks thanks to functions integrated into development environments (image analysis, pattern recognition, OCR, use of application metadata, etc.). Many scenarios are possible:

  • Easily create links between applications that were not designed to communicate with each other (e.g. for each email received, check that the contact has been created on the CRM side),
  • Enrich the functionalities of a proprietary or non-proprietary application (e.g. if amount > x euros, then send an email),
  • Hiding a poorly designed MMI (e.g. by asking the user a question and going to feed the application in the background), etc.

From the company’s point of view, the return on investment is possible before the end of the first year, provided, of course, that the pre-projects for process analysis are avoided over a period of months (by favouring solutions that provide process mining, or even process discovery) and that solutions that are not very agile are avoided (e.g. those that do not take advantage of process discovery, which allows development times to be reduced).

Last but not least, from the customer’s point of view, seeing their requests processed earlier, faster and with fewer errors, can only contribute to improving their satisfaction.

We already have some answers here, but before drawing any conclusions, let’s first look at where existing RPA solutions might be heading.

The RPA of tomorrow

Not all RPA solutions yet offer process discovery (automated discovery of processes and assessment of their relevance for automation). Yet this is essential. Without this, the work of finding and selecting the processes to be automated is greatly extended and depends on the business team’s detailed and exhaustive knowledge of its own processes and their documentation.

RPA solutions on the market sometimes offer a “Recording” mode that allows the skeleton of the process to be automated to be built very quickly. However, we are still far from the simplicity of explaining to a colleague.
Some RPA solutions offer the end-user the possibility to automate their own processes. However, IT skills are still needed to make it variable, to manage error recovery and unforeseen events, to programme the business rules, etc. Ideally, the user should be able to describe the process in its simplest form and special cases should be handled when they are encountered via questions and answers, (just as two colleagues would do) so that the process evolves over time.

The most common use cases are in the HR, billing and accounting departments, which are common to all companies. All of them have to deal with many documents with similar objects but very different frames. Understanding the frames of these documents and facilitating the retrieval of the data (handwritten or not) will also provide a clear competitive advantage.

These 4 areas of improvement have in common to put more AI at the service of RPA in order to bring the user closer to RPA.

So, finally, will your business be impacted?

The naive answer would be to believe that only people in charge of automatable tasks will be affected. This would be incomplete.

Indeed, the customisation of existing applications on the user’s workstation will be further enhanced by RPA as it gets closer to the end users by simplifying the creation of processes. This will reduce the demands on traditional ISDs!

ISDs will benefit from this. Will it still be necessary to migrate old applications with outdated MMI and connectivity when an RPA overlay will enable automatic input and output retrieval?

Finally, for many growing companies, the right time to equip with software will be postponed the lower the cost of not equipping with automation (why pay for dedicated software when a do-it-yourself can do it cheaply?)

It remains to be seen what it will be like in a company in which everyone is an actor in the automation of the processes for which they are responsible…

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