Robotic Process Automation - Pros and Cons

RPA has proven itself as a promising new development in business automation and it is one of a current hot trends in the ICT world. Indulge yourself and read!

Jari P. Ängeslevä & Tatu Kairi

At Eficode, automation is written in our DNA. Therefore it's no wonder that recently many of our customers are asking our opinion on the topic of RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, one of the current hot trends in the ICT world. So, strap in and indulge yourself with this food-for-thought installment.

Although now achieving buzzword-like status, RPA has been around for some time. Recently, it has proven itself as a promising new development in business automation by typically offering a potential return of investment in the scale of 30% to 200% within the first 12 months. In addition to the savings for the bottom line, we have also witnessed gains for the top line. Despite the negative connotation about automation in certain circles, employees seem to achieve increasing job satisfaction, instead of detriment. As a matter of fact, robotics and automation is beginning to have a profound effect on business today, and in our view only increasing in the future. Although the whole idea of automating existing processes is "business as usual", RPA provides an easy start for companies due to the fact that it’s lightweight to implement – one doesn't need a lot of ICT involvement to get it up and running, meaning your business stakeholders can learn quite quickly how to configure and apply the robots. Main reason for this is that RPA only addresses the presentation layer of information systems and it doesn’t have to address the business logic or the data access layer of the underlying system at all.

In other words, it can be said that RPA takes the robot out of the human. This holds true for all white collar workers today who are working with back-office processes and have a lot of repetitive, routine tasks that are dreary and uninteresting. This is the typical scenario where RPA is at its best and can reap immediate benefits as a type of software that mimics the activity of a human being in carrying out a task within a predefined process. It can do repetitive work more quickly, accurately, and tirelessly than humans, freeing them to do other tasks requiring human strengths such as emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment, and interaction with the customer.

However, many corporates fail to understand that this is just the first step to the right direction. By digitizing the current process to be efficiently carried out by the robot only solves the problem at hand, but it isn't going to change how the process is unable to help the business in the first place. It just repeats the actions as dictated and modelled, but does not go any deeper than that. In automation, our goal is to fundamentally change the process itself to better match the short- and long-term targets. By not only digitizing, but using all tools in a digital transformation toolkit, we are able to make a new, better, and more efficient process possible. To really think over the input and output in question and designing something new, which will give unfair competitive advantage for our clients.

Technically speaking, settling only for the first step in automation that RPA provides might also accrue you unexpected debt. ICT systems are (and should be) always evolving entities; otherwise it would mean the business is not changing. In corollary, this also means that employed RPA solutions needs to be eventually updated as well – usually hastily to keep the accumulated benefits instead of them turning into hindrances. In other words, are you then not updating your ICT environment in two places? If you agree, then it would mean you are actually doing more human work, not less.

What is RPA good for then, if not being the silver bullet to all our business woes? Well, digitizing – the evolution of the current process – must start with understanding what the nuts and bolts of the business are. Only then we can innovate. Thus, being able to record the routine human decisions as an automatic robot provides an ideal first step in the further transformation journey to then change the ICT systems themselves. This is precisely what RPA is great for – it provides clear and nonnegiotable requirements for further development and evolution to make ICT work for your business, instead of against it. It also doesn't hurt that on the way to better business we also reap the above-mentioned ROIs, now does it?

Based on discussion with different experts on the field, we here at Eficode have thus come to the opinion that just employing RPA without deeper, more foresighted vision about the role of automation as a business driver is frankly throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is crucial for companies hoping to benefit from RPA to seriously see it as a tool towards something greater and not as an end itself. Otherwise, one might end up in the proverbial upstream with a software robot instead of a paddle.

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