Robotic Process Automation increasingly looks like a
game-changer. Why? And why now? We discover that you need to look at the
past, as much as the present, for the real answers.
As professional researchers, we’ve been studying IT-enabled business transformations for over 25 years, taking a long view of the sector through multiple generations of technology. We’ve been especially fascinated with the recent performance of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the impressive results customers have achieved over the five years we’ve been researching it. Our service automation research base includes dozens of case studies and multiple quantitative surveys, analyzed in several books, articles and conference presentations.
Is RPA simply the newest “new thing” in enterprise technology? Or is something deeper going on? We’ve been asking the same questions of ourselves that others have been asking: “What’s different about RPA? Why is everybody so excited? Why is the value realized so high?” The answer, our research suggests, has a lot to do with context.
For the past 30 years, companies in all industries have undertaken a succession of large-scale initiatives to improve operational effectiveness and competitiveness, applying the three classic enterprise transformation levers: People, Process, and Technology.
As our summary table below suggests, all these initiatives, from ITO and BPO to BPR, ERP, TQM, BPM and all the other acronyms, share some common features: they’re expensive, they involve long-term consultancy services, standalone “strategic” budgets and dedicated deployment teams, and they take a long time to implement. And oh, they’re all disruptive to the business.
Looking at this picture, one might pity the Operations and IT executives charged with leading and managing these interventions – it’s hard, painful work, with expensive, inflexible, long-cycle tools, for uncertain and often hard-to-quantify gains, with limited recognition and reward.
Enter RPA, which emerges in this context as a surprisingly winning solution. RPA technologies are available in three main models:
- Autonomous, enterprise-grade RPA, delivered on a server or cloud infrastructure;
- Local, “assistive” desktop versions, known as Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA); and,
- A third, more IT-intensive model resembling a software development kit (SDK).
While all three models have their value, enterprise-grade RPA offers the business a code-free, flexible, general purpose tool set. We’re not suggesting its problem-free or without challenges, but RPA is relatively easy to configure, offers rapid implementation, high ROI, and early benefit realization, with minimal pain and mostly happy users.
For business leaders, it eliminates multi-year waits on the IT work queue, enables control over configuration to meet changing process demands, and allows the workforce to pursue more rewarding, revenue-generating activities while increasing productivity. Conversely, RPA also enables the IT function to focus on core enterprise infrastructure and relieves pressure on shrinking IT resources (people and budgets), while maintaining security and governance. Because RPA software operates at the presentation layer, moreover, it doesn’t disturb or compromise underlying systems of record.
Is RPA a magic elixir? Given the
challenges noted earlier, and the need for specialist implementation
expertise, RPA isn’t a panacea for all enterprise ills. But it clearly
changes earlier paradigms of enterprise transformation and greatly
boosts productivity. In autonomous server- and cloud-based models,
enterprise RPA creates an agile, flexible technology platform on which
to build a truly digital business – a new, business-driven and
business-managed layer on the IT “stack,” if you will. For all those
unsung operations leaders, our research to date offers abundant evidence
why they’re so excited about the opportunity and the benefits.