RPA actually stands for “Real Paradigm Adjustment”
Robotic Process Automation is as potent to business as the internet was in the 1990’s.
In a recent article in Business Insider magazine it was predicted that 5 million UK jobs would be “killed off” by 2020. The article also highlights 11 industries where employment is under threat and estimates the possible percentage impact on jobs, ranging from:
1. Manufacturing – 19%
2. Banking – 18%
3. Construction – 10%
10. Healthcare – 4%
11. Science 4%
Truthfully no industry, or person, is immune from the impact of Robotics, Process Automation, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence but as McKinsey has written, Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet), this will be a journey.
Yet as a student of business and my sector, I am still surprised by how many people I am in contact with either don’t know what RPA is, or believe it will not impact them. By not rolling ones sleeves up and learning and closely monitoring how this rapidly evolving technology will impact your services and products is a price that could relegate you to the corporate junk yard.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a term widely credited to a UK based Process Automation specialist Blue Prism. Who initially focused on automating simple Macro or Scripted Process Automation, during which they became more and more interested in the potential of merging the discipline of process automation (PA) with Cognitive Artificial Intelligence Robotic activities, bringing the first RPA product to market in 2014.
Whilst many RPA activities still focus on Macro or Scripted Process Automation with simplistic “Bot” front ends to provide clients/users with a humanlike interface – with obvious powerful target applications such as online customer service agents and HR process agents – the RPA innovators have already deployed sophisticated algorithmic decision tree technologies to deliver “next best actions” without following a prescriptive linear process. Thus, imitating human behaviour and thought processes.
However, the real RPA innovators are taking the Cognitive Artificial Intelligence concept and stretching the boundaries of human imitation with intelligent thinking behaviour merged with Optical Character Recognition, Intelligent Character Recognition, Voice Recognition and Speech Synthesis to completely replace a growing number of manual repetitive activities and functions in business. This video of how we may be booking appointments soon may be considered low value but it is amazing and is a clever example of what is coming down the road at us – it is amazing!
RPA is a rapidly developing and intrusive technology creating many business opportunities. The current core activities and focus are:
The RPA Market Place
Since the emergence of RPA in 2014 many specialist vendors have emerged to follow Blue Prisms lead, such as Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Thoughtonomy, NICE, Kofax Kapow and many others.
All the large solution vendors covet this space with Microsoft embedding RPA into some of its Macro development and SAP deploying scripted process management into its ERP portfolio.
There have also been other major players like Pega swoop early to acquire Openspan to add RPA into their core CRM and BPM technologies. Both AA and UiPath have recently secured funding at stratospheric valuations to further develop their UI and AI propositions, whilst endeavouring to fend off the attention of large potential acquirers, with IBM, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Salesforce all watching the developing RPA market.
All major consulting firms are watching the RPA/AI market very closely with many expanding their Process Automation practices to include RPA. Interestingly this offers a ready market place for newly skilled RPA consultants. Indeed the RPA training market (The RPA Academy) is going to benefit materially whilst the need to support CxO’s and HR teams with timely intelligence, instruction and research around organisation redesign and the changing dynamics of the workforce is going to be important.
The Impact of RPA and the market opportunity
RPA is an automation technology that can handle rule-based and repetitive tasks without human intervention. The benefits are wide ranging – incremental cost savings over traditional offshore delivery; improved service delivery in the form of process quality, speed, governance, security, and continuity; relatively shorter investment recovery period; is generally non-invasive and easy to manage.
RPA offers huge value with the inorganic reduction in costs and an increase in productivity. This value can be realised quickly with very rapid deployments at low risk. This is achieved with non-invasive integration which can be quickly reversed if necessary. As a consequence, the once risky assessment cycle is now cheap and fast – fail quickly – or in real-time scale.
I believe there is now plenty of evidence to conclude that RPA is starting to move from that “early adopters” stage to mainstream. Just last week in New York I was talking to one of the leaders in the in the field who stated that the number of units they are now selling per order has increased 10 fold over the last year and is rising, and that Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp claims to have reduced human tasks by 400,000 hours, equivalent to an entire years work for 200 employees following their adoption of RPA. Folks believe that a typical RPA deployment will result in a 10% to 25% headcount reduction in the target process area, whilst delivering huge early mover advantage and suffer little pain of innovation. A great article about RPA in procurement is here.
What is really important to understand when looking at this is that RPA should be considered as a compliment and augments your existing process management activity and if the deployments are done sensitively then end users and clients often do not realise the change but see a huge benefit in service levels. The rub to this is that as productivity increases and more processes become automated the head count in certain areas will decline quite quickly, but the flip side to this is that the need to manage, maintain and govern these systems and technologies will increase.
To this end, leaders need to ensure they navigate the non-trivial challenges of the digital transformation of their work place and work force with the large potential benefits extremely carefully. That is another topic.
The market opportunity for RPA is endless and is something we should be embracing and encouraging all clients to actively pursue.