For many companies, modern technology can sound like a confusing alphabet soup: AI, 3D, AR, VR, and IoT are just some of the technologies a business might consider incorporating into its operations. (In English, that’s artificial intelligence, 3D printing, augmented reality, virtual reality, and Internet of Things!)
As if all that weren’t enough, here’s one more to add into the soup pot: RPA. Robotic process automation is another emerging technology that businesses might want to consider. We’ll leave the exploration of the others for another time. Here we explain what RPA is, how it can help businesses and some of its challenges. We also explore how companies are taking advantage of yet another technology trend, the outsourcing of IT, to get the best RPA results.
What Is RPA?
RPA describes systems that automate routine tasks to enable employees to spend more time on strategic efforts that contribute to the company’s forward momentum. Specific tasks include performing data entry, responding to customer requests, generating assignments for employees, installing software or helping applications “talk” to each other, and creating a daily financial report. Of course, employees can always step in when, for example, a customer request is too complex for the RPA system.
These systems can provide critical insights and analytics to a business in a way that humans can’t. This information becomes part of a foundation that enables owners and managers to make smarter decisions and avoid costly mistakes.
Benefits of RPA
There’s a good reason that 53% of companies have already implemented RPA. The promise of RPA includes greater efficiency and productivity, which lead to greater profitability. RPA enables humans to perform higher-level functions that require human intelligence, assigning less nuanced tasks to machines. As mentioned above, this arrangement allows employees to manage the strategic aspects of the business. It also reduces labor costs, minimizes errors, and increases efficiency.
Having both human and machine resources allows businesses to become more flexible in how the work gets done and, therefore, more competitive. For example, RPA programs can easily make needed changes to regular tasks and will continue to implement them more consistently than a human would. They can also be programmed to work at times that humans can’t, such as after regular business hours.
In addition, and contrary to popular belief, machines don’t need to replace humans. Rather, humans, working alongside machines, can be retrained and promoted, bringing valuable institutional knowledge, enthusiasm, and enhanced job satisfaction into their new roles.
Great for Small Businesses
Workers don’t have to be great computer whizzes to operate RPA systems. Once they’re installed, they’re generally easy to use and customize. Thus, RPA can sometimes suffice when a company is considering more costly custom software implementations.
Despite their ease of use, these programs can help small businesses solve difficult problems within customer service, finance, manufacturing, and other departments. Automating workflows can enable each employee to take on additional roles within the company, saving money and simplifying the company’s org chart.
Additionally, small businesses can often help employees adjust to automation more easily than larger companies can. This is an advantage that smaller operations have over the big guys.
Challenges With RPA
Though not complex to use, RPA systems can be expensive. Companies must weigh the costs versus the expected benefits. Owners and managers must also be very aware of what they hope to achieve by using RPA. A new RPA system won’t automatically solve any business problem and, without clear goals and metrics to measure them by, it will be impossible to assess whether the new system is improving operations.
As mentioned above, RPA implementations don’t have to be doomsday-like scenarios in which all employees are replaced by robots. Yet, the opportunity to replace certain employees’ roles with robotic substitutes does exist. Again, companies must weigh out whether such trade-offs make sense in their business environments.
How IT Outsourcing Companies Can Help
While RPA systems may be easy to operate once they’re installed, the installation process itself may be more complex, requiring the help of an IT outsourcing company. Even IT teams within a company may be stretched too thin to take on such a task. These companies specialize in making businesses more efficient and profitable and can help determine the best approach for any RPA plans.
The skilled professionals who work for these companies have likely encountered numerous similar situations and can bring their considerable knowledge to the table. They can help ensure fast, efficient installation, as well as training and support as employees, get to know the new system.
RPA is an exciting technology that can help all types of businesses in a multitude of ways. While some employees may become anxious about automation, the truth is that such systems can help them do their jobs and eliminate tasks they dislike. The upfront cost of RPA systems may seem prohibitive and business executives should carefully consider the ROI they’re likely to get over time with their use.