Robotic Process Automation (RPA) aims to automate predictable, repetitive tasks within a business. Despite large investments in Enterprise Resource Planning and business process management systems, it is still common to find people dealing with silly, time consuming activities such as copying data from one system to another. It’s not supposed to happen, but in the real world it does. This simple example is just one of thousands that consume time and effort on an ongoing basis, and many real-world examples might involve several systems that need to be manipulated to achieve a task. RPA consists of software robots that have their own work environment, in the same way a human does. This consists of a virtual keyboard and display, allowing the people who set up these robots to directly emulate the work carried out by a person.
This technology has been developing in the background for around a decade, and has now reached a level of maturity such that it is starting to go mainstream in large enterprises. Current estimates put the adoption at around 50% of large businesses. RPA is essentially a rule based environment enabling the emulation of well defined tasks. Reported efficiency improvements are impressive with savings between 30% and 60% commonly reported for various processes. It is claimed that one robot will often do the work of anywhere between 3 and 6 people. And unlike ERP or BPMS, RPA is relatively low cost and low latency – robots can be implemented within weeks.
The limitations associated with RPA primarily revolve around the simple rule based paradigm it uses. To this end Intelligent Automation (IA) adds artificial intelligence to its repertoire of capabilities, so that tasks such as handwriting recognition and language interfaces can be accommodated. Obviously IA is something of a moving target, since AI is a rapidly evolving domain. Even so, Intelligent Automation is already finding application, and it enhances the efficiencies realized through RPA.
These technologies demonstrate very clearly that automation of administrative functions is now a major opportunity for most large businesses, in the same way that industrial robots have automated many production tasks. New suppliers of RPA and IA technology are appearing at rapid rate, although there is a widespread expectation that the two disciplines will converge. Here is a list of some of the more prominent suppliers in this space:
- Automate Anywhere – RPA plus cognitive capabilities
- Blue Prism – pure play RPA
- Contextor – pure play RPA
- Kryon Systems – pure play RPA
- IPsoft – includes cognitive technologies.
- Pega – RPA and IA
- Thoughtonomy – RPA as a service.
- UiPath – pure play RPA
- Winautomation – Windows only software robots platform.
- ProcessRobot – pure RPA.