It’s not what you think!
When people think about “robots taking our jobs,” they usually have some image in mind like this one. This is entirely unrealistic, of course.
Yes, humaniform robots are a great idea because our world is designed by humans, with tools, devices, and services designed to be used by beings of our size, with appendages like ours.
Giving a robot a hand like ours would permit it to operate a doorknob, use a hammer, a pencil, or a makeup brush. There would be no need to design several separate tools to replicate what we can already do with ease.
Giving it legs & feet would mean that it could negotiate the same places as humans without new equipment or designs. Designing a mechanical contraption that was substantially different than us would severely limit its ability to use the tools that already exist—rather like reinventing the wheel.
A driving robot could be the size of a computer chip, relying on incoming sensor data, and fit behind the dashboard not using up a seat in the vehicle. Some robots will be humaniform, and some with be hardware, depending on necessities. None of them will be like the first image—it’s neither practical nor useful.
So what is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the use of intelligent, responsive programs to handle mundane transactional tasks that humans hate, loathe, disdain, or which merely frustrates them while consuming time that could otherwise be used for creative purposes. Robotic Processes don’t require an actual mechanical robot but instead, rely on systems trained to respond like a human.
It’s called a robotic process because it is repetitive, rule-based, and involves using structured data to reach logical conclusions. If you’re a Project Manager and five people want to talk to you about the task, an RPA could look at everyone’s schedule, find a time that suits all, and schedule a video conference. It could even cope with timing problems by planning two smaller meetings or sending a video summary of the meeting to a non-attendee.
RPAs are one of the best uses of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). More importantly, an RPA handling a task is at least three times faster than a human, so it automatically saves a great deal of time. And while it is saving all that time, employees are now free to deal with tasks RPAs are not good at, such as troubleshooting, exception handling, and first-time new-problem solving.
Getting Electronic Hands Dirty
Some examples of RPAs that work well, are opening, reading, and responding to basic e-mails; logging into applications in a secure manner (for a human); reading databases, and sorting & analyzing the information; collecting data (such as web-scraping or the spidering engines used by Google for indexing the internet); following if/then decision-making trees for ordering stock, or scheduling production lines; filling out forms (grant applications, zoning abeyances, project proposals); and performing calculations (getting satellites to geosynchronous orbits, estimating oil reserves, or weather forecasting).
RPAs reduce risk to companies by producing reliable, trackable, predictable data. They are enhancing the process quality, lowering costs, and making the customer experience better
The RPA Market
RPA Tools are easily designed, tested, and implemented. They’re geared to require small expenditures or investments, leading to low-cost solutions. They cover most aspects of day-to-day functions including HR, IT, Customer Care, and Business Operations.
To create “invoices” the process is mostly similar to all RPAs. To start, let’s look at Blue Prism. An RPA would receive an invoicing request with an attached Excel template, open SAP, log in securely, open Invoice, and then scan the data from the Excel template. It would perform numerous checks on the data to make sure it was reliable, and then enter the data into SAP.
If anything vital is missing, it e-mails the person requesting the invoice for any specific invoice data and incorporates the response. It proceeds to create the invoice document and properly saves it for sending. It then sends an e-mail confirmation to the requestor, before closing and logging out of all processes. All this happens in the space of a few seconds, notwithstanding any delays by humans in the process chain.
Ratings for various RPAs
Two of the oldest companies in the business, Kofax and Pagesystems, got started in the late 1980s and 90s offering digitization of hard copy records for companies. Their understanding of processes allowed them to begin offering early RPAs. Many more companies have since joined the RPA technological evolution.
Blue Prism (who invented the term “RPA”) and UiPath came along in the 2000s, with advanced RPAs that were programmable by a company’s staff. Blue Prism works with many in the Fortune 500, while UiPath works with more than half of the more exclusive Fortune 10, and almost half of the world’s 20 top financial services.
Most recently (the 2010s), a lot of RPA vendors arrived on the scene with intelligent automation, reliant on cognitive processes. Now everyone is headed in this direction, and most enterprises are adopting and adapting to stay competitive.
Kofax Kapow Ratings: (limited reviews) Generally Ranked #6 in RPA
Product Capabilities 8.6
Ease of use 8.6
Pros: You don’t need to be a programmer to use KAPOW. These robots automate formerly manual data collection, primarily web-based, and eliminate human errors. It makes you fast, efficient, and accurate. Training Videos are provided as part of the program. Built-in OCR (Optical Character Recognition) makes text extraction from web-scraping easy.
Cons: Steep learning curve while you learn algorithms, though it is presented in a GUI format which helps. Training videos are in-depth, meaning they can be slow-paced and dull, but better than poor training.
Pegasystems Ratings: (limited reviews) Generally Ranked #4 in RPA
Product Capabilities 8.0
Ease of use 9.0
Pros: Genuine contender to compete with Salesforce; possesses predictive analytics using a powerful business rule management system (BRMS); development supports CRM as well as Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC); release cycles are shortened by using Pegasystems automation tools.
Cons: Aimed mainly at mid-market customers, relying on Pega7 and Pega Express as Intelligent Business Process Management Suites (iBPMS), however, customers still report difficulty finding sufficient resources with Pega 7 expertise. Deployment & Rule Versioning for parallel development needs work. Creation of Integration Classes needs work. RPA is still a niche market, and support tools and resources are hard to come by.
Blue Prism Ratings: (80+ reviews) Generally Ranked #3 in RPA
Product Capabilities 8.6
Ease of use 8.4
Pro: Blue Prism’s Control Room feature makes it easy for even a neophyte without development skills to isolate problems because of its visual nature. Processes can run quickly and inexpensively. Good if you don’t have high transactional volumes. If your process changes frequently, you can alter the processes in-house.
Con: The use of AI has lagged the rest of the field but finally began to make headway in Version 6. Others are better at this point. Its cost is comparatively high.
UiPath Ratings: (180+ reviews) Generally Ranked #1 in RPA
Product Capabilities 9.0
Ease of use 9.2
Pros: Flexible and integrates with a great deal of software, better than many other programs, making it more likely to mesh with the applications you use. Instructions can be added through multiple paths, such as drag-n-drop or merely typing.
Cons: Some solution paths require programming knowledge, others don’t. This is a better choice for programmers than neophytes.
Ratings: (175+ reviews) Generally Ranked #2 in RPA
Product Capabilities 8.6
Ease of use 9.0
Pros: AA Automates the tedious work that wastes people’s time. Its AI is powerful with the IQ-Bot feature, and it can define RPA tasks on its own, saving time.
Cons: Product Support is based in Japan. It would be better if the offered support from more locations to avoid bottlenecks.
WorkFusion Ratings: (10 reviews) Generally Ranked #5 in RPA
Product Capabilities 8.8
Ease of use 7.8
Pros: Easily scalable; improved stability with recent versions. You can use a database as a task trigger, just by opening it.
Cons: Web automation still leaves much to be desired.
HelpSystems Automate Ratings: (limited reviews) (Unranked)
Product Capabilities 10.0
Ease of use 10.0
Pros: Decent customer service. Has File Watch capabilities to make sure that files that need to be somewhere at a specific time are sent. Flexible so that files placed in a folder are automatically delivered. Purges files by date, if desired, to reduce folder clogging. Conditional operators (loops, if/then, et al.) speeds tasks.
Cons: Missing a reporting ability on tasks; this is needed. Conditional operators need the OR command added because AND is insufficient by itself.
Reconcile yourself to the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the area of Robotic Process Automation. You’re going to have to do some research to find out which is the best tool for you. It’s highly dependent on what you’re doing, what results you need, and the level (or lack thereof) of programming expertise to have available.
Some companies are still running their RPA successfully on the built-in PowerShell application available in all versions of Windows™ 7 and newer. Using PowerShell for an RPA has worked for many years, but it’s getting to the point where that is no longer a viable option.
If you only have one person who is competent to use PowerShell and they leave your organization, you will no longer have the capability to use RPA, and that’s a terrible position to be in. It’s time to get into a real, dedicated, RPA program, where it’s possible to hire experts to manage your RPA needs. Nothing in business should ever be entirely dependent on one person.
This is important, so begin your research today. Get this handled before it becomes a crippling problem! Time and Tide wait for no one!