Throughout history people have sought ways to rid their lives of mundane and boring tasks. They’ve been more than happy to let machines do that kind of work. Today, however, there is a puzzling and growing outcry over artificial intelligence (AI) systems taking over mundane tasks in cyberspace. Dennis Walsh observes, “Robots are perfect for the mundane, repetitive work that nobody wants to do but somebody has to do.” That assertion is just as true in cyberspace as it is in the physical world. Walsh explains, “Physical robots deployed in the blue collar workforce are not the only ones enabling businesses. There are other, much less conspicuous robots that many organizations are already using to exponentially increase staff productivity in white collar roles. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is where software robots interact with existing business and web applications to automate processes within a company’s walls.” Kris Subramanian (@Kris_O3) and Subin Perumbidy, Co-Founders of Option3, believe RPA is poised to alter the business landscape. They write, “Enterprise technology is on the cusp an inflection point afforded by the leaps made in automation to re-shape how businesses operate in the recent years.”
How RPA is changing the business landscape
Subramanian and Perumbidy report, “Robotic Process Automation, where a software or a ‘bot’ mimics human interactions, has become prevalent and is increasing in demand by organizations in their digital transformation journey. These bots are now being onboarded as virtual workers across various business functions to eliminate repetitive, error-prone activities that are dependent on manual effort.” There are numerous benefits to automating such tasks.
In many business situations, legacy systems, from which data must be extracted, don’t communicate with each other. Hence, data required from those systems for other purposes has historically been extracted manually. Saurabh Banerjee, a Senior Specialist at Sapient Consulting, reports, “RPA can automate some of the human work for data entry, working with spreadsheets, orchestration and coordination across multiple applications that don’t talk to each other. Rule-based manual steps in back office processes, that are often subject to seasonal variation in workloads such as customer onboarding, support, bank reconciliation, and accounting have been prime targets for RPA.” It takes little imagination to understand how errors can be drastically reduced by automating such processes.
More efficient supply chains
Earl van As, Vice President of Marketing & Product Management of ecmarket, asserts even small initiatives can have significant impacts. “Deploying minor RPA initiatives in the back office,” he writes, “can create major positive impacts that translate into business value across the business-to-business supply chain.” He goes on to note supply chains are particularly suited for RPA implementation. “Suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors with staff members who are performing high-volume and highly transactional functions should consider capitalizing on process automation. For example, sales and customer service teams are inundated with transactional tasks, such as manually keying in data from purchase orders, on a daily basis. With hundreds, and possibly thousands, of documents to process, they are not maximizing their value as revenue-generating sales employees. Automating such redundant and time-consuming operational tasks can not only free them up for other duties but can also boost efficiency and cut costs.”
Banerjee notes, “Cost reduction has been a key driver for automation of desktop-based manual steps such as data extraction, data entry and email processing. Apart from cutting costs, automation has helped reduce cycle time of business processes while ensuring better service quality by eliminating human errors in repetitive laborious tasks. By adopting RPA, many businesses have been able to free up existing resources for more high value work such as dealing with exception scenarios. Return on investment on RPA can be realized fairly quickly.”
Improved employee morale
As both van As and Banerjee note, RPA can relieve employees of tedious tasks so they can focus on more challenging activities. Most employees have better morale when they find their jobs more interesting and less routine. According analysts from International Data Group (IDG), “Digital labor frees up staff from mundane, repetitive tasks to do more strategic work that’s not impacted by geographical location, resulting in higher job satisfaction and morale.” Subramanian and Perumbidy add, “Employees constantly choked with repetitive tasks that take a lot of time can now look at RPA as a savior. It frees up a significant amount of their time which allows them to focus on more productive activities and makes the workforce move up the value chain with the technology to augment their efforts and reduce the workloads.”
In talks with clients, I’ve found they want to go beyond RPA to what I call Cognitive Process Automation™ (CPA). Cognitive Process Automation goes beyond the accomplishment of routine tasks. CPA has the potential to not just automate, but to improve processes by dynamically processing and executing subtle decisions as if they were made by the best human expert. Linda Tucci (@LTucci) admits, “[RPA is] different from cognitive robotic process automation.” Sue Troy (@SueTroy) adds, “Over the next 10 years, the work of 110 million to 140 million knowledge workers around the globe may be handled by cognitive robotic process automation systems.” I believe that statement may be too sweeping. Had Troy used the term “tasks” rather than “work,” I believe she would have been more accurate. Vinodh Swaminathan, KPMG’s Managing Director of Innovation and Enterprise Solutions, explains, “The cognitive systems era, which is the most exciting phase of enterprise transformation in more than a century, is upon us. Cognitive software mimics human activities such as perceiving, inferring, gathering evidence, hypothesizing, and reasoning. And when combined with advanced automation, these systems can be trained to execute judgment-intensive tasks.”
According to van As, “Integrating RPA into back-office workflow can create tangible ROI for supply chain businesses without putting customer service at risk. Ultimately, RPA can dramatically improve many areas of supply chain management, creating more opportunities for businesses to compete in the era of digital transformation.” Of course, RPA and CPA have benefits beyond just supply chain operations. Walsh adds, “For companies to stay ahead of the competition and keep employees engaged and excited about their roles, implementing the right RPA strategies will be critical to future success. By staying ahead of the curve and implementing RPA early, companies will finally free employees from the manual tasks that plague productivity and allow them to make forward-thinking decisions that will ultimately benefit the bottom line.”
 Dennis Walsh, “Don’t Worry So Much. Robots Are Mostly Doing the Work People Hate Anyway.” New Haven Register, 3 January 2018.
 Kris Subramanian and Subin Perumbidy, “Striking The Balance Between A Human And Virtual Workforce For Organisations,” Inc42, 30 December 2017.
 Saurabh Banerjee, “How RPA and AI will Evolve in 2018,” Dataquest, 21 December 2017.
 Earl van As, “Commentary: Robotic process automation—Demystifying its potential in the supply chain,” Supply Chain Quarterly, 17 January 2018.
 IDG Contributing Editor, “Is Digital Labor Working for You?” CIO, 30 September 2016.
 Linda Tucci, “Robotic process automation software: Find the right target,” TechTarget, 31 July 2016.
 Sue Troy, “Cognitive robotic process automation poised to disrupt knowledge worker market,” TechTarget, 25 June 2015.
 Vinodh Swaminathan, “Embracing the Cognitive Era,” KPMG, 22 January 2016.