When Evolution or revolution? Robotics and its impact to our business environment
By Wojciech Tatys, Transformation & Operational Excellence Lead for EMEA/APAC at Discovery Inc
Is this something completely new?
Unfortunately, to be honest, those solutions are with us since many years, but only few were aware of them due to other priorities at that time like Big Data, Outsourcing, Mobile or Cloud. To understand this concept better, we have to slightly change the naming convention, from Robotic Process Automation to simply Process Automation and voila! Once again, looking at the Google Trends (red line) we can clearly see that we never stopped talking about this topic.
All our industries are constantly talking about cost reduction, efficiency generation and effectiveness of our processes. Very often the companies were achieving those goals by implementing new technologies. One of those businesses can be associated with being the father of what we know today as RPA, we are talking about IT—especially software development teams. Once part of the software is ready for deployment, the team has to make sure that what they built has met the requirements and is bulletproof in terms of feature effectiveness. How do you that? Testing, testing and testing. And how do you perform thousands or millions checks for various scenarios? Simply use test automation software or like we call it today, (Robotic) Process Automation.
So what is so unusual about word “Robotic”? In simple words, it is the way we perform the process automation and the environment we are working on. The test automation software was very often utilized on the user desktop or what we call today—Desktop Automation solution.
RPA seems to be something we were always waiting for, our silver bullet for efficiency generation
On the other hand, the software was having limited features if compared to current RPA solutions, but those features were more than enough for testing purposes. Today RPA solutions are more aligned to what the business environment is looking for in terms of ease of use (every employee can use it and learn it quickly if necessary) and features, i.e. managing email inflow, building dashboards, filling web forms, downloading reports from the system or OCR documents. Sounds like silver bullet, doesn’t it?
Will this revolutionize our environment?
RPA seems to be something we were always waiting for, our silver bullet for efficiency generation. STOP! It’s a very powerful solution but it requires proper preparation. Let’s talk about the dark side of it. RPA solutions allow us to automate the manual steps of the process, always following the path we design. This means that if for instance the Robot has to open the file from the defined location, but the file is not there; it will do nothing unless you tell it to do something. We have to bear in mind that robots are not thinking (yet), so in case of an error, if we don’t design a specific action the robot will simply stop. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the RPA application. That’s why the usage of RPA has the biggest potential in a stable environment with huge volumes of repeatable tasks. Nothing stops us from using it on more complex environments. Simply, current RPA solutions were not built for that purpose, but the new editions will be.
Even in stable environments, the process may change and that’s why the second important aspect of RPA is robot management. Every single robot that was developed should be considered as typical employee. In other words, if the process changes we have to teach the robot the new way of doing things. That’s why future business environments will be slightly different, we will move from employees performing tasks to employees managing robots that are performing those tasks. This will allow us to gain efficiency but on the other hand will completely change the way we work on a daily basis. RPA may be considered as new toy in our toolset for driving business efficiency. Taking into consideration the need for standardization and manual management (still), RPA is a nice upgrade in terms of efficiency possibilities but without tremendous change.
We can honestly say that the robotics agenda that we currently face is a great evolution of technology that will simplify our work. What is the most important is, it is a foundation to revolutionize our environment once we move to the next level and start applying Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.
That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.