Is RPA Technology Revolutionary or Evolutionary?
We often ask this question when an innovative technology trend emerges that takes the IT world by storm, especially when it is offering the “silver bullet.” While these “revolutionary” technologies can have a profound impact on a company’s performance, there also comes a point where senior management needs to evaluate that technology to see its potential long-term effects. In the IT realm that is shown most evidently in the Product Adoption Curve, where you see IT trailblazers in the “Tech Enthusiasts and Innovators” category willing to be the “Beta Testers” for this technology, whereas most enterprises fall into the “Pragmatists/Early Majority” category. While they are excited about its potential, they want to wait till the technology has a proven track record before making a major investment in time, money and company direction.
Which brings us back to the question at hand, is RPA a Revolutionary technology that companies should wait to have vetted? While a more in-depth answer to this question can be found in this RPA Guide, the short answer is that just the term “Robotic Process Automation” has only been introduced for the first time in the last few years; the technology itself has been around for over 15 years and has been well established. Automation has existed in the software industry since the early 1990’s after the big PC Revolution in the 80’s. Almost immediately companies looked for quick and easy solutions to implement automation and really dawned the era of “Screen Scraping” which was the first viable option, but lacked common features that tied companies to old hardware, preventing them from adapting. RPA has developed within a lot of tools over the years, and has many elements like Excel Macro’s and other portions of Business Process Management tools to allow companies seamless automation.
The interesting thing is, while this may seem like the first question that comes to mind, the more important question is, how did a technology that has such an amazing impact on my bottom line, elude so many companies for so long? This part is still a highly debated topic, but the most accepted answer is of two parts. The first is while RPA technology has been evolutionary, it was only made commercially accessible over the last 3-5 years as the product sets became more mainstream and Citrix/Remove View environments became compatible with them. For the second we must look at what has slowed the RPA efforts from becoming mainstream since it was released. If you look at what RPA does, it is Business Process Automation where you are taking repetitive, typically lower level, non-revenue generating functions, and having a software robot perform them rather than a human. Prior to RPA, the only other way to achieve this without going down the path of hard programming integration was through labor arbitrage, or in short, outsourcing the work to a lower cost laborer, but still achieving the same result.
RPA is a natural predator to these models because you are essentially replacing seats with a software robot that cost significantly less and performs quicker for longer. Ergo, if outsourced companies were to utilize these platforms, they would essentially be going back to all their clients and just asking for a 40% contract reduction. Not the type of thing, that excites any shareholder. The truth of it is, now that these terms are becoming readily accessible and awareness is growing, a lot of these Business Process Outsourcing companies are being forced to adapt and attempt to take a hybrid approach. The problem with a hybrid approach is a BPO will still always have an inherent conflict of interest, which is why more and more companies are looking to the market for pure play RPA integrators to fill this void.