Is Robotic Business Process Automation (RPA) a Challenge to BPO, BPM and EAI?
No matter how you look at it, Robotic Process Automation and Smart Business Process Automation using Cognitive Technologies is a disruptive trend. RPA Technology will have a much further reach into the market than just to the larger enterprises. The lower cost, shorter implementation time cycle and less technologically intrusive nature of RPA implementations lends itself to be as ubiquitous as Cloud and SaaS Technologies. The robots can easily be deployed within a large enterprise or small to medium-sized businesses. The future of the workplace may not just be FTE and/or contractors but a combination of FTE, contractors and a digital/virtual workforce (a.k.a. Software Robots).
RPA is an alternative to offshore business process outsourcing in many ways and a complement to BPO in others. But it certainly beats the classic “labor arbitrage only” model for cost efficiencies as it allows you to keep control of your business while still getting the cost benefit. No one is predicting the demise of the $63 Billion BPO industry, however the transition to a digital workforce has already begun at the lower end of the BPO value chain and it will be interesting to see how the market develops over time.
Similarly, business process management (BPM) as a methodology and as an automation technology has been around for over a decade. However, BPM system market penetration has been mostly with the relatively larger enterprises due to the complexity, costs and implementation time-frames. RPA in some ways is a complement to BPM implementations but in other ways it is an alternative for companies that consider BPMS Automation too complex, intrusive or costly. BPM does have a huge role to play within larger enterprises because it enables automation of complex workflows and dynamic rules whereas RPA technology can address quick automation challenges. BPMS sometimes are marketed as a “low code” platform whereas RPA is marketed as “no code” platform by only operating at the UI or “Surface” levels. Although many BPM practitioners may question the RPA alone strategy within the bigger picture, the fact is that RPA is already delivering many tactical and strategic wins within organizations of all sizes.
RPA can also be considered for shorter-term enterprise integration strategies by using surface level automation for systems where writing lower level API Code is too complex or the relevant SDK’s may not be available. However, RPA may not be a solution for situations where real-time synchronous integration is required, since exception paths may require human intervention.
Lastly, a few thoughts about “Smart” Business Process Automation or “Smart” RPA. Many business process automation challenges require the processing of not only structured data but also semi-structured and/or non-structured data. For e.g. when the next step in a workflow is dependent upon understanding natural language (emails/chats or spoken language) or extracting meaningful data from unstructured documents (contracts, invoices etc.), the robots can be programmed/configured to utilize the new breed of AI and Machine Learning Technologies that are designed to process semi-structured or non-structured data. This however requires that a considerable amount of historical “training” Data sets be available so the Machine Learning algorithms can produce results with a higher level of confidence. Many leading RPA Software vendors have been introducing such “Smart” capabilities into their software to enable the robots to handle such scenarios.