Realising the Full Potential of RPA: An Outsider's Perspective

Realising the Full Potential of RPA: An Outsider's Perspective

Robotic Process Automation: An innovative emerging technology that automates structured business processes, but one which has not yet hit its peak. In some, RPA strikes fear as a technology that will affect 1.2 billion jobs by 2030 and replace a range of employee skillsets. However, for others, RPA is seen as the bridge between humans and Artificial Intelligence and the driving force behind human upskilling.

So, what exactly is it? RPA is a software with the potential for AI and machine learning capabilities that handles high-volume, repetitive, and rule-based tasks that burden humans in the workplace. Put simply, it simulates human work of entering and extracting data, logging into applications, and filling out forms amongst many other capacities. As an outsider, I was captivated by this technology because of its scalability and applicability. However, equally, I was aware of the prophesised bleak future for human workers. Startling statistics jumped out at me: 70% of roles at high risk of automation are currently held by women, 16% of 20-24-year-olds will be affected, and 1.5 million people in England are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation [1].

How wrong I was to doubt the staggering potential of this technology. The potential to diversify employment rather than disrupt it. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to join AccelerateRPA, a leading automation consultancy, and experience this industry first-hand. I was trained in UiPath, the leading RPA software vendor, and qualified as an RPA Developer. This gave me the opportunity to design, program, and implement robots for the sales team in the office. Did this lead to my colleagues losing their jobs? NO! Operational efficiency increased, as the robot performed the work faster than a human. Accuracy increased, as the robot scraped all the data it was programmed to do and wrote it flawlessly into required platforms. Business response time decreased, as the team had all the data in one place. But, crucially, the sales team was able to release its creativity, innovation, and be entirely client focused.

The full potential of RPA is to realise the full potential of a human. Job enrichment, skill stimulation, and the evolution of productivity in the global labour market are real-world benefits already being appreciated by the hundreds of companies implementing this brilliant technology [2]. RPA offers employees the opportunity to work on more interesting and value-adding tasks, and jobs must be redesigned accordingly to smoothly manage robot-human interactions [3].The RPA market is expected to reach $12 billion by 2023 [4]; an explosive surge from $250 million in 2016 [5]. Furthermore, adoption of RPA in Fortune 500 companies around the world is approaching 100% [6]. Robots are here, and it will take education and enlightenment to woo the current workforce to embrace it positively during the implementation period. Risks will increase, but the opportunities to solve such risks and use automation as a platform for human success are too great to ignore in this period, described by some as 'The Second Machine Age' [7].

Let's embrace RPA and take the robot out of the human.

Charlie Kellaway, July 2019

[1]. Bloom, J. (2019). Automation could replace 1.5 million jobs, says ONS. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47691078

[2] Willcocks, L. P., & Lacity, M. C. (2015). Nine likely scenarios arising from the growing use of robots https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/

[3] Juttmann, J., & van Raan, K. (2019). Manage the effects of Robotic Process Automation to enable a future-proof workforce. https://home.kpmg/nl/nl/home/insights/2019/01/manage-the-effects-of-rpa-to-enable-a-future-proof-workforce.html

[4] Joseph, L., Le Clair, C., O’Donnell, G., Sharma, A., Dangi, S., & Nagel, B. (2019). The RPA services market will grow to reach $12 billion by 2023.

[5] Le Clair, C., Cullen, A., & King, M. (2017). The Robotic Process Automation Market will reach $2.9bn by 2021.

[6] Kirkwood, G. (2019). How RPA is evolving with AI: In five slides.

[7] McAfee, A., & Brynjolfsson, E. (2014). The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.