Fact or fiction? Debunking the misconceptions of RPA

Published 05/01/2020 by Dean McGlone, V1

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is tipped to transform how organisations work and, for some, the transformation has already begun. Microsoft has added RPA to Microsoft Power Automate to enable its users to automate manual business processes across all their on-premise and cloud apps and services, while Sage has integrated RPA with Sage Business Cloud X3 to automate document management for its customers.

The increasing adoption and growing appetite for RPA is echoed in Advanced’s latest Annual Trends Survey, which shows that 26% of business decision makers are seeing RPA in their daily working lives – a remarkable 15% jump in 12 months.

What’s clear, then, is that RPA is fast earning its spot as one of the most innovative technologies in the business community. But we mustn’t forget that many organisations are still yet to adopt it. One reason is the lack of understanding of, and confidence in, RPA. This urgently needs to be addressed, so here are five common misconceptions debunked:

Misconception 1: Businesses will need a robot

RPA might conjure up images of talking robots marching across the workplace but this is purely a pipedream. The reality is that RPA is not a physical robot.

So what exactly is it? Essentially, it refers to the use of a software robot or tool with machine learning capabilities for the touchless processing of tasks that are time-consuming and repetitive – something only humans could previously perform.

Simply put, robotic technology operates within computer software so businesses needn’t expect a robot entering their workplace anytime soon.

Misconception 2: RPA is only for large organisations

RPA was once within reach of only big corporates with big budgets but, for various reasons, this is no longer the case. First, new digital start-ups and established technology providers are now creating solutions that are affordable for smaller and medium sized organisations.

Second, RPA providers are offering cloud-native software which eliminates the infrastructure barriers typically associated with RPA adoption. The cloud, as we already know, is widely accessible and easily scalable, and therefore makes it possible for businesses of all shape and sizes to start using RPA and see the benefits in a matter of days.

According to CompTIA’s Trends in Cloud Computing report, 81% of organisations say the cloud has greatly enhanced or moderately enhanced their efforts around automation.

Misconception 3: RPA requires significant investment

Many businesses believe that RPA demands significant time and financial investment which is a myth. In fact, it is easier to access, expand and scale than other innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) – especially if it’s cloud-connected.

What makes RPA so appealing is that organisations can start small, enabling them to plan and test the software to see its impact on operations and staff. This means initially focusing on processes that involve low-skilled, manual and repetitive tasks, which are most ripe for automation. Tasks might include document management and accounts payable.

RPA can also form the building blocks for future AI adoption. Planning and testing RPA software is a great indicator of the benefits large-scale AI deployment could bring in the future – but without the fear of large-scale failure.

Misconception 4: RPA will kill workforce morale and eventually kill jobs

We have all read about so-called robots threatening our jobs but is there any truth to this madness? Probably not. RPA is actually far more likely to change job roles for the better and, actually, we could be heading for an era of the cobot in which the most powerful combination for increasing productivity is people and technology.

Robotic technology generates masses of data and insight so, by working in collaboration with it, users will have more accurate and timely data at their fingertips.

What’s more, it will enable the workforce to work smarter, not harder – freeing up staff to gain greater control, enabling more incisive decision-making and improving productivity.

The key to success is that businesses provide ongoing education and awareness to staff so they are engaged, confident and motivated to use RPA to help them work better.

Misconception 5: RPA never makes mistakes

Human workers aren’t perfect, but neither is technology. Both can make mistakes. Poorly configured RPA software can create a problem with the data and, worse still, the software won’t know it has even done something wrong and therefore be unable to correct it.

Like any technology, RPA therefore needs to be implemented correctly right from the start. Rules need to be set (by humans) and monitored on a regular basis. Robots depend on human oversight, so businesses need to understand how to monitor RPA software as well as intervene and decide when and how to use the system in any given situation.

Ultimately, both RPA and humans need training. Users need to understand how they can get the most from RPA software – quashing the earlier assumption it will kill off people’s jobs.

In conclusion, RPA is clearly taking shape but its adoption among businesses would be far greater if understanding and confidence is greater. Knowledge is king so, if we can better educate businesses, it won’t be long before RPA becomes a commodity in the workplace.