What is RPA?

Put simply, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) describes a software development toolkit that allows non-engineers to quickly create software robots (commonly known as “bots”) to automate rules-driven business processes by replacing human effort to complete tasks. Software bots mimic human activities such as logging into IT systems and copying and pasting data across systems.  Unlike other automation solutions, RPA generally requires minimum integration with the existing IT setup.

Organizations with labor-intensive processes can potentially boost productivity and save time and money with Robotic Process Automation. This has put it top of mind with IT departments and with business executives evaluating how technology can enhance efficiencies with other business initiatives such as outsourcing and shared service centers.

Consider the following:

  • In a recent survey of 500 senior decision makers, 77 percent of respondents believe RPA will drive productivity, through the automation of mundane, transactional tasks. In the same survey, 56 percent of respondents indicated they are planning to use RPA to free up staff, allowing them to focus on higher value work.
  • According to Craig Le Clair, an analyst at Forrester, “(RPA) market growth is exceeding greater than 50 percent CAGR to get from $500 million to $2.8 billion in five years.”

Since RPA is trending, it has given businesses reason to ask, “is this new and emerging type of automation replacing other “gold standard” forms of automation such as Business Process Management (BPM)?”

Not exactly.

BPM is a holistic approach to optimize and automate business processes, while RPA deals with discreet, repetitive tasks. These tasks typically occur at the start of a process, so RPA can play a significant role in automating these. BPM is end-to-end, so while RPA can be part of a BPM approach, it will not replace BPM. Robotic Process Automation is just one automation tool that can play a role in a larger automation/improvement strategy, where technologies such as BPM also play a role.

So while Robotic Process Automation might be useful to kick off a process for example, when an exception rears its ugly head, it likely will necessitate a handover to humans for cognitive decision making. Bots may best humans in faster and cheaper task completion, but until further notice, the human and technology equation is still essential to support the modern customer-centric enterprise.