We’ve been hearing buzz about a new concept in AI, robotic process automation. The promise of the technology is that it can automate processes that employees are doing manually, saving your employees’ time and potentially reducing operational costs. It fits right in with the current trends in cloud computing toward optimization. We’re all about saving time and money – so let’s take a look at this trend to see if it can help you do either of these things.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a way to automate business processes by creating software robots to perform manual and mundane work-tasks. It allows users the ability to configure within an application the capability to handle a variety of repetitive tasks by processing, employing, generating and communicating information automatically. For example, you might program RPA bots to do first-level customer support tasks by searching for answers; copy and paste data from one system to another for invoicing or expense management or issue refunds. This video from IBM shows an example in action.
Furthermore, RPA tools can be trained to make judgments about future outputs. Many users appreciate its non-intrusive nature and the ability to integrate within infrastructures without causing disruption to systems already in place.
How can you use Robotic Process Automation?
Companies like Walmart, AT&T, and Walgreens are adopting the use of RPA. Clay Johnson, the CIO of Walmart, says they use RPA bots to automate pretty much anything from answering employee questions to retrieving useful information from audit documents. The CIO of American Express Global Business Travel, David Thompson, says they implement the use of RPA to automate the process for canceling an airline ticket and issuing refunds. In addition, Thompson is looking to use RPA to facilitate automatic rebooking recommendations, and to automate certain expense management tasks in the company.
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More specific to cloud computing and IT, one great application for RPA is in automated software testing. If testing involves multiple applications and monotonous work, RPA can replace workers’ time spent testing. Additionally, RPA can be used to automate processes in monolithic legacy systems that are not worth developers’ time to update, to bring automation while work on newer microservices systems is in progress.
Is Robotic Process Automation the Best Way to Automate Cost Control?
A recent study found that not all automation is achievable with RPA. In the study, they conclude that only three percent of organizations have managed to scale RPA to a high level. Additionally, Gartner placed RPA tools at the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in their Hype Cycle guide for artificial intelligence last year – another vote for more buzz than potential.
So can it save you time and money? If employees at your company are spending a large percentage of their time on repetitive tasks that require little to no decision making, then yes, it probably can. It’s also important to free up developer time that is spent on automatable tasks, like scripting, so they can focus on creating value for your business.
For complex and long-term automation, though, purpose-built software is a better solution. If there is already a solution to your automation needs on the market, it will probably serve you better than RPA, because there won’t be an upfront period needed to program bots, you won’t need to make frequent changes to your processes like many RPA bots will require, and it’s a better solution for the long run.
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