2019 – the year you may get a Personal Assistant.

Anthony Ryan
On: 17 Jan 2019
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robotic process automation

Having worked in the Intelligent Automation space for several years, I’m surprised when someone tells me they’ve never heard of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Even in a relatively small market like Ireland, this technology is growing quickly and will soon be pervasive. Here is a quick overview of what it is and how it can add value to your business.

What is RPA?

Anything a user does through an application window can be automated by a “bot”, similar to macros for a desktop, i.e. it does what it says – Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Common use cases include reading data from one screen and rekeying it onto another screen or extracting data from one screen and entering a value based on a rule onto another screen. It can also be used to read PDF invoices and key the data points into an Accounts Payable system. The use cases are endless.

You may be thinking the technology to automate these kinds of tasks has been around for decades and you are right. Automation technologies like desktop scripting, middleware solutions and custom-built APIs have been around for a long time. RPA is different because of its fast and easy implementation, ease of use and low cost. The leading RPA vendors offer intuitive tools that come with ready-to-use functions, allowing applications to be developed and rolled out in weeks instead of quarters or years. RPA applications cost a small fraction of traditional IT requests and should the “bot” no longer be required, it can be quickly repurposed.

Why RPA?

For many, any mention of task automation raises concerns around job security, however it is only a legitimate concern for very few. Companies with thousands of employees, some of whom have the sole task of rekeying data, may find RPA makes some roles redundant. In most organisations, those involved in manual data entry have many other tasks to complete and rekeying data is a necessary evil in their day before they can get to more valuable, analytical work. For the vast majority of people, bots are more of a virtual Personal Assistant than a replacement, freeing up their time to do more interesting work.

The value of bots goes beyond saving time for skilled workers. Bots virtually eliminate keying errors that inevitably creep into every manual process. The knock-on effect is better quality data, less rework and administrative interventions, and improved inventory control and customer service.

Bots work 24×7, 365 days a year. They can be tasked to perform operations in the off hours, for example to process customer orders at night; performing credit checks, allocating inventory, preparing pick lists and generating a list to be actioned by the human workforce the next morning. This list might be to address credit problems, inventory issues, expedite deliveries, etc.

RPA in 2019.

In 2019, I predict we will see more cases where RPA is combined with technologies such as Natural Language Processors, that convert recorded voice calls to digital data or interpret instructions and sentiment in text formats, which can be extracted, analysed and actioned. Other examples include Optical Character Recognition and of course Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. These technologies will be combined in unique ways for businesses of all shapes and sizes in Ireland in the coming year, as they already are.

As with any emerging technology trend, it is important to be aware of it and consider its potential applications for your business, or risk your competitors taking the edge.

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