In 2019 the analyst firm, HFS Research, ruffled many feathers across the technology industry by declaring that ‘RPA is dead…’ Robotic Processing Automation (RPA) had already been growing for several years at this point, and HFS was predicting that the market was about to change dramatically.
Although the headline sounded shocking, HFS was making some smart observations, which they outlined in a recent article about how automation is developing.
It’s not that RPA is really dead — companies still want to learn how they can automate business processes to improve quality, accuracy, and efficiency. However, the centralized approach to RPA is changing.
Instead of a big project, led by the CIO, where specific business processes are automated, it is becoming more common for individual business users to have access to bots they can control. Easier access to technology. A democratization of automation. This democratization is part of a broader trend, often referred to as “citizen development”, where end-users are empowered to create their own software solutions with minimal coding.
This doesn’t mean that IT expertise is no longer required. Companies need to build a strategy and determine the best RPA tools that will work in their situation. The big difference is that RPA can now be provided as a tool for the business users to experiment with — rather than the IT team starting with a problem and designing a complete solution.
There are some attributes of modern RPA that are making it easier to use, such as:
- User-Friendly Design. Modern RPA tools are designed with intuitive interfaces, allowing users to automate tasks through drag-and-drop features and visual workflow designers. This lowers the barrier to entry, enabling users without programming skills to create bots. Users still require the ability to plan and understand logical steps, but they don’t need to learn a programming language.
- Templates. RPA software vendors are offering pre-built templates and bot libraries for common tasks and processes, which users can readily deploy or customize to fit their needs. This is very useful because many companies have very similar automation goals.
- Integration with AI. RPA is increasingly being integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) components, such as machine learning models, to create more intelligent bots that can handle complex tasks and decisions, expanding the scope of processes that can be automated. This creates the prospect of RPA bots that can learn and improve with experience.
- Improved Governance. To manage the increase in bot creation, RPA tools are incorporating better governance and control mechanisms, allowing IT departments to set policies and oversee bot deployment without stifling innovation. This has often been an overlooked problem, as assumptions were made about the productivity available from bots without planning for the controls that are required.
All this offers a dramatic new focus on innovation in addition to the efficiency that usually drives any exploration of RPA. It reminds me of when spreadsheets arrived in offices. In the early days of the PC, many managers did not immediately feel that they needed computing power on their desk — they could ask a team member for any specific data or analysis.
Once the electronic spreadsheet became easily available, this all changed. Managers now realized that they could slice and dice data without asking for help. The spreadsheet was a tool, and they now had permission to use it.
This is how RPA is evolving.
The CIO and IT team will remain involved in providing the tools and ensuring they have the storage and required computing power available. However, they will increasingly leave the business solution down to the business team that needs to automate their corner of the office.
There will be some blending of the teams as skills are transferred into frontline business teams, but this kind of digital literacy will eventually become commonplace.
There was a time when people listed “skills” such as spreadsheet and email experience on their CV. Digital literacy was seen as a useful skill that could set you apart from others, but now it is just assumed. Anyone applying for a professional job is not asked if they can use email — it is just assumed that in 2023 you know how to use email.
RPA is heading in this direction. There are many accountants and lawyers who still feel that their job resembles the career of their parents, but this is dramatically changing. In future, all professionals will understand that process automation is just another component of basic digital literacy that is expected from everyone.
IBA Group has deployed many RPA systems, and we have deep experience of both business and technical solutions. We can become a part of your team as you experiment with automation concepts. Click the link for examples and more information.