Is RPA here to stay? Or is it just the tech flavour of the week?

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

Let’s be clear: artificial intelligence is going nowhere. The advances made daily in this sphere make it quite difficult to walk AI back (scary, but perhaps a topic for another day), but RPA is a type of functional AI that is set to change the way people work. Quite simply RPA takes the robot out of the human. Built to take over the repetitive, rule-based processes humans are responsible for. Think vendor processing for example.

Quite typically a business process that has one of five specific characteristics make it a potential ‘candidate’ for RPA substitution.

The big 5 RPA characteristics

First, those processes that are prone to human error but really can’t afford to be. No matter how much you love excel and its rows and rows of numbers, even at our best humans get tired. Machines don’t. they can keep going long after we’ve gone to bed. Not only are they tireless, when the rules are clear they never make a mistake.

The second characteristic is actually what makes RPA particularly exciting. Previously, If a process required access to multiple systems you needed a human gatekeeper between systems. With RPA this is no longer necessary. Previous AI was only able to work within one programme, now RPA can work across a number of programmes and provides its results through the presentation layer.

Side note: the presentation layer is the section of code that translates data into something us humans can understand

The third refers to what I have frequently referred to as rule-based processes. Robots don’t like ambiguity. In fact, they just don’t have the cognitive faculties to work in obscurity. So the key factor is that the process needs to have a specific set of rules that are applicable in ‘every’ case.

As long as the relationship between X and Y remain constant then you may have the set-up in place for your very own robot. Correspondingly, the fourth characteristic is that the process should not include a number of exceptions to the standard set of rules.

Fifth, the process itself once started needs little to no human intervention. Obviously number based processes like payroll are the perfect systems in this respect.

The 4 main streams of RPA

The first, and as you can imagine the most expensive, is highly customized software that is used for highly regulated industries like accounting and finance. The other three are almost akin to gaming levels, the beginner RPA type deals with ‘screen scraping’ or ‘web scraping’ where the user (robot or human) is collecting data, synthesizing it and then placing it in some format for use later.

The advanced version is what is called a self-development kit: this is a templatised piece of software that would be given to your programmers and they would then be responsible for designing your robot. The third and final level, expert, is what is taking the industry by storm and is called enterprise/enterprise-safe software, which is both scalable and reusable. Each of these software types is easy to get up and running with little IT involvement and likewise easily managed by the layperson.

Industries implementing RPA

In a previous article, we touched on the industries that are currently using and benefiting from RPA going into the future. Those include both the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry and the banking and finance industries, but these are not the only ones that can and should make use of RPA. The banking and finance industry is almost entirely rule-based (except for customer service), and the heavy requirement for compliance can benefit from non-human intervention.

The utilities, legal and insurance industries can also benefit from RPA software. As alluded to previously, anything to do with monetary transactions is really where RPA shines and as service providers, bill collection and account collation is something that is easily dealt with by bots. In the utilities space, a great deal of progress has been made in putting RPA to task in meter-reading for example.

RPA software is also pretty smart, it has the equal capacity to go through reams and reams of legal documents much quicker than your average human, able to look for and find information relevant to case work. Then we have the good old insurance industry that is the perfect combination of paperwork and customer transaction, especially for RPA.

Understanding it’s application better, what kinds of processes could really benefit from RPA and add to that seeing how it is currently being used globally by various industries with that number growing my personal summation is that this technology is here to stay. It’ll grow and evolve like all technologies do but it certainly is not going anywhere. Its benefits are far too attractive to ignore.

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Last modified: February 4, 2021
Author info
Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
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