Does your ERP system talk to the rest of the systems in your enterprise? Do your call center representatives need to manually enter data from one system into another system to close a call? Are your workers performing a lot of repetitive tasks?
These are some of the problems that are fueling the rapid rise of robotic process automation, or RPA, in the enterprise. The technology is growing at a fast clip -- 57% year over year, according to Gartner. That pace will continue. Gartner has said that global spending on RPA software is on pace to reach $2.4 billion in 2022, up from an estimated $680 million in 2018.
"End-user organizations adopt RPA technology as a quick and easy fix to automate manual tasks," said Cathy Tornbohm, a Gartner VP, in a statement. "Some employees will continue to execute mundane tasks that require them to cut, paste, and change data manually. But when RPA tools perform those activities, the error-margin shrinks, and data quality increases."
Forrester estimates that there will be more than 4 million robots doing office, administrative, and sales work by 2021. In its recent Future of IT report, Forrester identified automation, including RPA, as one of five major trends transforming successful enterprises.
"Automation is affecting the future of work, the way people work, and how decisions will be made," Forrester VP Craig Le Clair told InformationWeek. Humans will be working with process automation bots or interacting with chatbots. "A lot of innovation in companies will come from how this technology is understood and employed."
There are three components to the value proposition for RPA software, according to Carl Eschenbach, partner at Sequoia Capital, who spoke to InformationWeek about the technology. First, there's the ROI. A software bot can augment or replace 5 to 10 human workers, he said. Second, it makes your workforce more productive by taking people away from doing mundane, boring tasks, and it lets them work on more productive, revenue-generating tasks. Third, software bots are more accurate than humans and run at a higher throughput, he said.
RPA software company UiPath, one of Sequoia Capital's portfolio companies, works with customers around the world, and has many customers in the healthcare, banking, and financial services vertical markets, according to Param Kahlon, chief product officer.
Kahlon said there are a couple of big drivers of the technology in the enterprise right now. One of them is the digital transformation imperative. Enterprises know they need to digitally transform to compete against disruptive digital natives. But consolidating ERP and other applications is a long and involved process. It's a process they don't have time for if they want to compete against these fast-moving upstarts today. But companies can use RPA now to remove bottlenecks to the work process, according to Kahlon. UiPath has partnerships with almost all of the big ERP and CRM vendors, including SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Microsoft (Dynamics).
"I can take a business process that is slow and make it fast," he said.
Another driver is automating repetitive work for employees. For instance, the loan application and approval process can involve a lot of repetitive back and forth by the loan officer collecting documents from the applicant and submitting them and then being asked for other documents and going back to the applicant to get them. What if those repetitive processes could be automated with a robotic process?
Organizations use tools to create a robotic automated process. Those tools can include a recorder that observes the repetitive task so that it can be repeated. UiPath also offers a studio in its platform with a drag and drop interface for creating a process.
Applying machine learning to RPA has the potential to make it even more powerful. A smart recorder under development now at UiPath will be able to discover processes and potentially recommend certain processes for automation.
Gartner predicts that by 2022 85% of large and very large organizations will have deployed some form of RPA, and a big part of that is because RPA is expected to help businesses reduce costs and increase their accuracy.
A Forrester Wave report from Q2 2018 covering Robotic Process Automation ranked UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism as leaders in the space.
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