“Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the “device” to fade away. Over time, the computer itself—whatever its form factor—will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI first world.” — Sundar Pichai, CEO Google
- A global oil and gas company has trained software robots to help provide a prompt and more efficient way of answering invoicing queries from its suppliers.
- A large US-based media services organization taught software robots how to support first line agents in order to raise the bar for customer service.
Software agents or Robotic process automation (RPA) is becoming a mainstream topic at leading corporations. I have seen a massive uptick in corporate strategy work in this area as C-Suite execs look at new ways to do more with less.
Software robots ∼ Conversational-AI products like Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, IBM Watson, Google Home, Alexa, drones and driverless cars ∼ are now mainstream. What most people are not aware of is the rapidly advancing area of enterprise robots to create a “virtual FTE workforce” and transform business processes by enabling automation of manual, rules based, back office administrative processes.
This emerging process re-engineering area is called Robotic process automation (RPA).
Machine Learning (ML) and graph processing are becoming foundations for the next wave of advanced analytics use cases. Speech recognition, image processing, language translation have gone from a demo tech to everyday use in part because of machine learning. Machine learning models, e.g., in driverless cars, teaches itself how to discover relevant things like a stop sign with snow partially obscuring the sign.
The market opportunity of artificial intelligence has been expanding rapidly, with analyst firm IDC predicting that the worldwide content analytics, discovery and cognitive systems software market will grow from US$4.5 billion in 2014 to US$9.2 billion in 2019, with others citing these systems as catalyst to have a US$5 trillion – US$7 trillion potential economic impact by 2025.
RPA – What?
“Robotic automation refers to a style of automation where a machine, or computer, mimics a human’s action in completing rules based tasks.” – Blue Prism
RPA is the application of analytics, machine learning and rules based software to capture and interpret existing data input streams for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and driving business process automation around enterprise applications (ERP, HRMS, SCM, SFA, CRM etc.).
RPA is not a question of “if” anymore but a question of “when.” This is truly the next frontier of business process automation, enterprise cognitive computing, predictive analytics and machine learning. To make a prediction, you need an equation and parameters that might be involved.
Industrial robots are remaking blue-collar factory and warehouse automation by creating higher production rates and improved quality. RPA, simple robots and complex learning robots, are revolutionizing white-collar business processes (e.g. customer service), workflow processes (e.g., order to cash), IT support processes (e.g., auditing and monitoring), and back-office work (e.g., data entry).
I strongly believe that as cognitive computing slowly but surely takes off, RPA is going to impact process outsourcers (e.g., call center agents) and labor intensive white collar jobs (e.g., compliance monitoring) in a big way over the next decade. Any company that uses labor on a large scale for general knowledge process work, where workers are performing high-volume, highly transactional process functions, will save money and time with robotic process automation software.