This week on #TechTalksWithMelwyn I delve into the curious subject of Robotic Process Automation and the future it holds for humankind.
There is an army of robots out there, waiting to take over and subjugate the human race! Probably NOT! Robotic Process Automation as the name suggests is not a physical robot but instead just glorified process automation. To be honest, the robotic part of the name found itself there just like your daily bread ended up as “gourmet” bread.
Quite simply stated, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the use of software to replicate human actions repetitively with nearly zero mistakes. This piece of code that does the work of a human, without ever needing a break or sleep, has been dubbed as the metaphorical robot. Now that we can all sleep a little better tonight knowing that the robots aren’t out to get us, let’s look at some of the applications, limitations, and fun aspects of RPA.
Think of the most tedious and mind-numbing activity you could imagine yourself doing at work. Listening to how your coworker’s weekend went doesn’t count, try another. Have you ever filled a form with your contact details and entered it into a lottery box to win 1 year’s free membership to Cost-co? Someone on the other end of that box must manually type out your name, address, email id, and forward the information to their sales team. Now repeat the same for 100s of forms times 100s of boxes. RPAs excel at these activities as they can quickly put together a spreadsheet by reading all the information from the forms, perform LinkedIn/social media checks to ensure your job and address match up, perform credit checks and finally send it over to the sales rep in your region.
According to the market leader in RPA, UiPath, this technology allows businesses to automate at a fraction of the cost and requires minimal programming skills: “RPA can reduce processing costs by up to 80% and in less than 12 months, most enterprises already have a positive return on investment, and potential further accumulative cost reductions can reach 20% in time”. RPAs have already become increasingly common in call center operations, insurance process claims, digitizing paper-based bank transactions, and credit card applications. The top players in the current RPA market are UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere and they all provide a free trial version where you can tinker around with the tool.
RPAs perform exceptionally well when they have their environment completely defined around them i.e. they have been programmed with all the business rules for the scenarios they may face. Any tasks that may require human judgment or don’t have a fixed set of possible situations aren’t candidates for this kind of automation. Also, these technologies come with a “shelf life” which means your robots are only good till you change something in your business process. As RPAs can be linked to existing processes, they can be integrated with your Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to perform a certain level of human-like decision making and are seeing the most application in chatbots and reading customer reviews to extract sentiments/emotions.
Hate to leave on a cliff hanger, but I’ll talk a little more about AI next week! I usually cover individual topics in a post and then move on to something unrelated the following week, just like your Patriot Act episodes. Now, I will start a new series of posts that cover related topics in progression viz. AI, Machine/Deep Learning, Reinforcement Learning, etc. I hope you can follow along! Also, if you want me to cover something specific, please do share your recommendations in the comments.