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We’ve been hearing buzz about a new concept in AI: robotic process automation (RPA). The promise of the technology is that it can automate processes that employees are doing manually, saving their 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?
RPA is a way to automate business processes by creating software robots to perform manual and mundane work-tasks. It gives 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 or to copy and paste data from one system to another for invoicing or expense management or to 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 RPA 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 RPA. Clay Johnson, the CIO of Walmart, says the company uses RPA bots to automate pretty much anything from answering employee questions to retrieving useful information from audit documents. American Express Global Business Travel implements RPA to automate the process for canceling an airline ticket and issuing refunds, says CIO David Thompson. In addition, Thompson is looking to use RPA to facilitate automatic rebooking recommendations and to automate certain expense management tasks in the company.
More specific to cloud computing and IT, one great application for RPA is in automated software testing. RPA can reduce the time workers spend on monotonous testing of multiple applications. Additionally, RPA can be used to automate processes in monolithic legacy systems that are not worth developers’ time to update while they work on newer microservices systems.
Is Robotic Process Automation the Best Way to Automate Cost Control?
A recent study found that not all automation is achievable with RPA. It concludes 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 its Hype Cycle guide for artificial intelligence last year – another vote for buzz rather than potential.
So, can RPA 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 useful for freeing up developer time that is spent on automatable tasks like scripting so that 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. There won’t be an upfront period needed to program bots and you won’t need to make frequent changes to your processes like many RPA bots will require, making this a better solution for the long run.