Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has paved the way for significant changes to the marketplace and will continue to do so in greater scale as it takes hold throughout the industry as companies seek low cost efficiency gains. Through automated ‘bots’, companies can save time, money, and valuable human talent as they leverage this developing technology. With all the buzz surrounding RPA, there exists confusion and misunderstanding about what this technology can and will do. To further understand RPA and what it offers businesses, let’s highlight, and dispel, several of the most glaring RPA myths.
Change breeds uncertainty, especially when it involves technology. With “RPA” and “automation” gaining popularity in workplace conversations, in studies, and in the media, it’s understandable why some may worry. In reality, RPA isn’t meant to take your job nor is it likely it could completely replace entire jobs. RPA can automate processes or certain job responsibilities, but some activities an employee does today are better left to the employee. In many situations, RPA simply frees up human resources to redeploy their time elsewhere. Imagine the most repetitive part of your job – perhaps this task requires copying data from one source and pasting it elsewhere or performing the same action hundreds of times a week for each customer or client. With RPA, bots can handle these manual and repetitive tasks and leave the more engaging work for people. With hours freed up in the workweek or workday with job responsibilities handled by bots, employees can focus on critical value-add activities that require discretion and cognition.
While RPA is great at rote, non-complex, repetitive tasks, it isn’t always a suitable alternative, even for some activities that may be described as simple. Simple implies a certain ease of execution, but not all simple tasks for humans are easy for a bot. Unless there exists an exact set of rules the bot can follow, at this time there are no guarantees RPA can automate a specific process. Additionally, some systems or programs do not play nicely with certain RPA vendors. It is important to know what your RPA vendor can or cannot do. Don’t underestimate how much discretion or human knowledge goes into executing a specific process. Unless all necessary human knowledge capital can be captured in the bot or all discretion can be removed from the process, RPA is not necessarily the right option to reach automation. Remember, even though a process or task may appear to be simple or easy to you, there’s no guarantee a bot could do it if you can give it all the human and institutional knowledge it needs.
RPA follows a set of pre-defined rules. If a system or process changes, the bot should be reevaluated to identify any new exceptions or errors that could come from the process. Additionally, the bot is only as good as the inputs it receives. If an error is passed down to the bot, it will carry that error through its process unless the bot has been programmed to handle that specific error. This highlights the importance of proper planning prior to execution. It’s important to understand the limitations of your bot and know what may lead it to failure. Thoroughly test bots before mass scaling to mitigate potential risk and failure and know your bot may still make mistakes no matter how thorough you test and debug.
While there are upfront costs dedicated to design and implement RPA and get it off the ground, ongoing expenses are often minimal. Instead of an FTE salary with other benefits, a bot requires a low-cost annual license fee, in some cases less than $2,000 a year. Additionally, that bot can work every hour of the day, every day of the year. Not only that, it can work much faster and without fatigue. That brings the hourly cost of a bot far below most FTE hourly wages that a bot will augment. There are additional annual maintenance costs to consider with a bot, but if the right processes for automation are chosen these costs are non-material. With some of these major RPA myths dispelled, look to RPA as an addition to your digital strategy and see how it brings value to yourorganization.