On June 5th, I covered a webinar on Robotic Process Automation (see my notes here). At the time, they announced the planned release of an eBook on the topic. It is now available for free as a download after joining the Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA) - which is also free - or on Amazon for $9.99.
Unless you are a hard-core Kindle user, I’d recommend the free download, but that’s just me. The eBook is 35 very readable PDF pages that make the case for RPA equally to audiences in IT, procurement, and service providers. The best thing about the eBook is the prevalence of discipline agnostic case studies. Although the basic RPA concept is not too complex, its application may seem a little abstract. The frequent examples in the eBook make the idea easy to embrace.
The fact of the matter is, RPA has been part of our world for quite a while now, although it has not been achieving at its full potential. We’re accustomed to ATMs and GPS devices that are programmed to redirect us when we miss a turn. RPA can handle any process that is ‘definable, repeatable, and rules-based.’ On the continuum from increasing labor efficiency to labor elimination, RPA serves as a break/restarting point.
Artificial intelligence is certainly a piece of the puzzle, just not the scary parts where the bots take over the world. The adaptability that RPA brings to process automation makes it possible to issue a PO rather than just flagging that a human needs to place an order for a certain item. Not that it’s a requirement – RPA can work in both independent and assisted automation models.
The other advantage of being able to automate tedious processes, is access to new data. Anything that is automates created more data for analysis than manual processing can. Part of the outsourcing movement – at least at a high level – RPA presents the opportunity to process tasks in less time, for less money, and with greater accuracy. And it can do all that without shipping jobs overseas, a move that – although it is both legal and cost effective – comes with public relations risk. RPA may be able to handle work for half the cost of an offshore resource.
RPA is not the end all be all – the eBook’s authors rightly insist that processes should be optimized before automation. Otherwise you end up with a bad process that is completed faster and with less people.
Procurement should look at the rise of ‘the robots’ from a couple of angles. We should be prepared to start executing contracts based on RPA supply relationships. We should also be willing to embrace the approach more directly, using RPA to automate our own candidate processes. Despite all of the advice to outsource or automate tactical processes so we can become more strategic, we’ve hesitated. Like many other groups we shy away from the slippery slope of outsourcing part of our jobs. Why not try straight automation where it is appropriate?