At the end of last year, IT service provider Conclusion announced a partnership with Another Monday, market leader in Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The aim of the strategic partnership is to become a decisive player in the Dutch RPA market together. What does RPA actually stand for – and what can we expect from it in the coming years?
They can be found in almost every organisation: employees behind screens, who enter or manually copy data, create invoice numbers, open or close electronic files and send e-mails to customers or suppliers. They form the interface between the real world and the world of the underlying IT systems, as it were.
Many of these processes have a relatively high volume and a strongly repetitive nature. They also add relatively little value: in most cases, they are mainly needed because different business systems cannot communicate directly with each other. To give an example, albeit oversimplified: when an order arrives at the Sales department, two copies are made. One is entered into the system of the Fulfilment department, which packs and sends the product. The other is entered into the system of the Finance Department, which creates, books and sends the invoice. Of course, the order is also booked into the system of the Sales department itself. One order, three bookings in three systems – not only is that relatively inefficient and therefore costly, it also encourages errors.
Many companies invest in new systems that retrieve their own data from one central customer database. But it's not always an option to simply replace the existing legacy systems. This could be because the digitisation task is extremely complex, or because major investments have already been made in the existing systems. RPA software can offer a solution in such cases. RPA enables organisations to further digitise processes, without the need to adapt their IT systems.
We still need people
This is how it works: RPA places an extra layer of smart software over the existing systems, which can log on to systems, simulate keyboard and mouse inputs and even ‘read’ information from the screens. RPA thus makes it possible to ‘robotise’ recurring administrative processes. In the case of Another Monday's advanced products, that goes a long way: the software robots (‘softbots’) can – regardless of the origin of the data – control, structure, enrich, validate (classify), store, communicate or send data flows.
But that doesn't mean that people will become superfluous, says Martijn Baak, responsible at Conclusion for new RPA propositions. “RPA has added value because monotonous and repetitive work is eliminated from the tasks of employees and they can focus on their core tasks, such as keeping in touch with customers. Employees are given a virtual assistant and can focus fully on more challenging and meaningful tasks. The benefits for the organisation as a whole are obvious. There is generally a significant reduction in errors, lower process costs, shorter lead times, higher availability and improved employee satisfaction. RPA also makes it much easier for organisations to keep up with the changes in the busy market.”
Smarter and smarter
Since RPA solutions call for a relatively modest investment, companies can quickly determine whether it works with the aid of a proof of concept, says Baak. “RPA is not a panacea: you have to consider very carefully in advance where it can add value and where not. Numerous studies of companies that were early adopters of RPA show that embracing RPA without a well-thought-out approach can lead to costly mistakes. Indeed: at least 50% of all initial RPA projects fail because everything is based on too much technology and insufficient account is taken of the impact on the people who have to work with it, and because of the resistance that new technologies often evoke. Conclusion always emphatically takes the latter aspects into account.”
RPA solutions are expected to eventually become smarter and smarter – which is why technology is seen by some as a digital disruptor for the business operations of organisations. But according to Baak that will take some time. “RPA in its current form is still relatively new to us and we have a lot to work out in this area. In the medium term, RPA will increasingly be able to independently recognise information from unstructured data, such as scanned documents and audio. In this context we also refer to Intelligent or Cognitive RPA, in which the learning ability of the solutions increases through the application of AI techniques, such as speech recognition and deep learning algorithms. For the time being, this is still something for the future, although developments in this area are gaining momentum.”