Robotic process automation (RPA) offers a lot of opportunities to businesses. The technology promises to take many repetitive tasks out of the hands of employees and allow them to be managed independently by robots without human intervention.
This can provide a range of benefits. As well as making many day-to-day interactions faster, it can reduce the risk of errors slipping through when tasks such as data entry are done by hand. It can also make life easier for workers, relieving them of their most tedious requirements and freeing them up for more interesting, stimulating activities, which in turn can lead to improved morale and better productivity due to a more engaged workforce.
In practice, however, RPA still requires close maintenance and updating, so while it may make life easier for end-users, it still requires the close attention of IT departments. But with new developments such as powerful artificial intelligence and machine learning coming within reach of every business, what does the future hold for this technology? Here are a few common questions businesses have about the next steps, and the answers.
Q: What are the future forecasts for RPA?
A: RPA is set for strong growth in the coming years. According to forecasts from Gartner, for example, global spending on this software is set to reach $2.9 billion in 2022, an increase of 19.5% from the previous year. The research firm observed that RPA will continue being an "attractive and high-growth market" as providers of these solutions quickly evolve their offering to take into account developments in areas such as automation.
Q: Is RPA an effective long-term solution?
A: RPA will continue to offer great value to companies, but it does come with its limitations, especially as business becomes more complex. With traditional transactional approaches to these activities reaching their limits, RPA will have to evolve and embrace new developments to keep up. When implemented effectively, however, RPA will be a vital tool in helping enterprises cope with increased future data volumes and business processes.
Q: What are the key challenges facing RPA systems?
A: If firms are to make RPA initiatives a success, there are several key challenges to overcome, and these are all set to become more pressing in the coming years as data volumes and AI capabilities increase. Issues to be tackled include:
- Inadequate, inaccurate or complete data
- Lack of flexibility that prevents RPA from being deployed in different business scenarios
- The need for close management and monitoring of RPA functionality
- Failing to have a clear vision for the business goals of the technology
- Resistance to change from end-users and lack of readiness in IT departments
Learn more: BPM vs RPA: Better Together or Stronger Apart?
Q: Is RPA set to take over people's jobs?
A: Concerns over automation making human workers redundant is nothing new, but research suggests RPA will actually enhance people's jobs, rather than replace them, even as more tasks get handed over to machines. According to PwC, for example, up to 30% of jobs may be automatable by the mid 2030s. But this doesn't mean they'll disappear altogether. Humans will still be needed for tasks where decision-making, management, communication and creativity are required.
After all, the rise of factory robots may have changed manufacturing jobs, but it didn't eliminate them. Therefore, software robots are likely to have a similar impact on the IT profession.
Q: How can firms tackle high RPA maintenance costs?
A: Maintenance costs are a major issue with many existing RPA deployments, as they require frequent monitoring and tweaking to retain their usefulness. This can be tackled by using cloud-based solutions, which not only reduce the need for expensive in-house professionals, but make the testing and deployment of updates more streamlined.
Q: How does RPA work alongside AI and ML?
A: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will be the future of many RPA deployments. These technologies will need to be closely integrated into solutions and learn directly from what human operators are doing. One key benefit of this will be more automation, allowing businesses to take a more hands-off approach to their business processes. Automated tools that are able to make their own decisions and use technology such as natural language processesing to analyze inputs beyond a set of narrowly-coded parameters are the natural next step for RPA.
Q: What will next-generation RPA look like?
A: Today's RPA solutions are mostly useful for applications that require the bots to follow the same, rule-based pattern every time, and rely on a highly-structured format to work. Next-generation RPAs, on the other hand, will be more intelligent and intuitive.
In many cases, future deployments will be delivered on an As-a-Service basis, allowing users to take advantage of better flexibility and scalability and avoid the infrastructure costs of on-premise solutions. A key benefit of this is that it will open up the powerful capabilities of advanced RPAs to businesses that would otherwise not have the skills or resources to build their own solutions.