By Anwen Robinson, Infor GM and SVP for UK & Ireland
In 2022, robotic process automation (RPA) is poised for a breakthrough into mainstream consciousness. RPA refers to the automation of business processes via software platforms that script and operate predefined tasks across a variety of applications. Many repetitive business application tasks can be automated in this manner and RPA can be combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create more advanced automations, with the AI providing the requisite context and self-correction to the automated process.
The RPA software industry has been experiencing explosive growth, with the reasons for this growth well-known in IT circles. RPA can significantly boost employee productivity, freeing workers from time-consuming and repetitive operations, and we are now seeing the awareness and utilisation of RPA expand into traditionally non-IT domains, promoting exponential growth of RPA across the organisation.
Non-IT applications of RPA
Examples of RPA applications are appearing right across the enterprise. This includes smart bots that speed up the processing of external vendors’ invoice approvals; RPA workflows that incorporate AI to automate monthly data collection and metric calculations, and RPA bots automating back-office operations involving compliance, orders processing and customer requests.
As automated workflows become more common in business applications, RPA functionality will increasingly be built into commercial software. Recent trends such as Industry 4.0 demonstrate the utility of these tools.
RPA as an accelerator of Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 focuses on the synchronisation of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT), forming a cyber-physical continuum, or computer system monitored by computer-based algorithms, incorporating IoT-enabled intelligent devices. As RPA becomes more integrated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, the adaption of RPA tools utilising AI will accelerate the effectiveness of Industry 4.0 across the entire value chain.
For example, shop-floor processes are still often driven by paper-based tracking. Custom-defined workflows enable users to automate and streamline tracking as new functionality is needed, with the results used for advanced dashboards and reporting. As Industry 4.0 adoption gains traction, we will see increased RPA adoption in manufacturing operations.
RPA as an enabler of business resilience
COVID-19 has caused a series of disruptions, significantly in global supply chain and human resources. In response, firms are increasingly turning to RPA projects to deal with these disruptions and increase resilience in their business process operations. Such large-scale adoption implies growing recognition of the value of RPA among non-IT stakeholders.
As we have seen in other areas of digital transformation, widespread adoption of RPA across the enterprise will drive yet another technology-driven shift in the modern workforce. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times bestselling author, and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, assures us not to be alarmed. “The robots are not destined to take all the jobs”, he writes in his 2016 book, Thank You for Being Late. He predicts a future workforce freed from repetitive and mind-numbing tasks, allowing employees to maximise their creativity.
As RPA becomes the norm for firms across the globe, there will be a growing awareness of its potential among non-IT stakeholders. RPA’s resilience and scalability were demonstrated during the onset of COVID-19 disruptions and Industry 4.0 will keep RPA and associated AI functionality at the forefront of organisational change well into the future.