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Saving time is saving money, and you'd likely be challenged to find an organization that isn't looking to cut down on overhead costs. Today, one of the fastest growing ways organizations are saving money is by deploying an effective RPA strategy.
RPA, short for robotic process automation, refers to the use of a bot to carry out generally mundane, high-volume tasks a human would typically complete. Powered by AI and machine learning tools, the bot mimics a human worker, running on top of an organization's infrastructure instead of behind it.
The technologies and ideas behind RPA aren't new, but, with attention to AI continuing to grow, RPA has been receiving a lot of notice lately, and the RPA software market has grown dramatically in the last few years, according to Frances Karamouzis, a distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Speaking in a webinar released in August by Gartner, "Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Growing Pains & Realities," Karamouzis said that while studying the market for the past three or so years, she has seen it grow from a less than $100 million market to an estimated $750 million to $1 billion, and that's only in product license sales. Adoption rates for RPA have also gone up, she said, particularly in fields like HR and finance.
Currently, there are about 70 software companies that offer some kind of RPA product, Karamouzis said. While there are a few large organizations in that mix, most of the companies are smaller players. That's something to consider when looking at vendors and planning a company's RPA strategy, she noted.
Over the next few years, Karamouzis expects the industry to start to consolidate, with some vendors getting bought out or exiting the RPA field. Businesses looking to start the RPA process will need to thoroughly research the various vendors; otherwise, they risk paying for software that could be bought out and changed or lose its long-term support.
It can help to evaluate the needs and goals of your organization when starting to plan an RPA strategy, Karamouzis said.
"The way you get value from RPA -- you want to do hundreds of processes," she said. So making note of where the business is headed and what departments could benefit the most from RPA beforehand can be helpful.
However, according to Karamouzis, while RPA software can typically be deployed quickly, it's likely that the number of automated functions it performs initially will be relatively small and grow over time as users teach the software to carry out tasks and later work to refine the process.
With that in mind, buyers should try to put in price holds with vendors as they increase the number of tasks that the software carries out.
While the benefits of RPA can include error reduction, reduced recycle time, increased productivity for employees no longer weighed down by mundane tasks, and, ultimately, cost savings, there are a few potential negatives to consider when planning an RPA strategy, Karamouzis said.
Things to look out for
Chief among these pitfalls is that, while it is receiving a lot of publicity, RPA isn't able to fix everything, especially processes that aren't working well, Karamouzis said. RPA might help polish poor processes or outdated applications, but, ultimately, it's not going to change them. Users should be aware of that so that RPA doesn't mask process inefficiency.
Users should also plan for security risks when creating an RPA strategy.
"You really want to investigate indirect access risk in your software system," Karamouzis said. Users need to clarify bot permissions beforehand so the software doesn't interfere with something that could disrupt other processes or violate licensing agreements.
Prospective users also shouldn't expect to simply let the software run on its own without having any human input. Often, people may need to step in to make a decision about something the software isn't clear on, Karamouzis said, or to change or refine the way it performs a function.
For many users, RPA has not only been useful, but it has also helped them learn how to use more intelligent automation.
"It's been a nice welcome mat," Karamouzis said. "A sort of less obtrusive, less overwhelming way to get into this space."
RPA is relatively simple and quick to deploy, and "it meets you wherever your starting point is," Karamouzis said.