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The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
As we approach the end of the third industrial revolution or the digital age, it is vital to be aware of how to bridge the gap into the fourth. The fourth industrial revolution as coined by professor Klaus Schwab of the world economic forum is characterised by the use of cyber-physical systems. Cyber-physical systems are characterised by the control or monitoring of a physical task by computer-based algorithms that integrate the user and internet. Examples include technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and 3D-printing. One of the ways to approach bridging this gap is through Robotic Process Automation or RPA.
How RPA works is simple; it can be seen the same as an employee, except this employee doesn’t take breaks, throw a sickie for The Melbourne Cup or take holidays. These software robots are colloquially, referred to as ‘bots’ – you can think of them as your digital workforce. An RPA bot is typically set up for repetitive rules-based tasks such as data entry or request approval. The bot will first need to be to be programmed how to do the job. Most of the time programming a bot won’t look the same as writing an application in C++ or Python, instead it will be a step by step walk through of the process with actions such as copy this value or open a file. Additionally, some products allow for the process to be done first by an employee, and the steps will be automatically recorded and saved for the RPA software to follow.
RPA is already being implemented in a variety of industries across the board from healthcare to local government to automate repetitive tasks typically taken on by an employee. Looking specifically at the use of RPA in the in healthcare and government, Australian Unity worked with UiPath an American RPA company to help automate the collation and data entry of almost 250 fields of medical and clinical history, mental health status, and hospitalisation records for each client. The company has eliminated over 22,000 hours of manual work and freed employees to work on higher-value tasks and customer service.
To the average office worker, this may sound frighteningly similar to the assembly line robots that replaced factory workers. It is instead a new opportunity. While ‘bot’ driven automation focuses on menial day to day tasks, it frees up the employees to focus on high-value tasks such as the customer experience and developing new products and services. As medical care improves across the developed work and life expectancies increase, there will be an increased demand on healthcare providers and their employees. Being able to automate tasks such as patient file-handling, inventory management, and the administrative functions would offer massive cost savings and allow a more customer-centric approach as it frees up staff to assist patients.
RPA can provide more benefit than just cost reduction; it can also improve security. As tasks are automated the possibility of human error decreases, which can offer some much-needed peace of mind in the digital age; however, this doesn’t mean that RPA comes without risks. As with the implementation of any new technology understanding if RPA is right for a company is essential, with that comes understanding the risks associated. While RPA overall does decrease the likelihood of human error, there is still the possibility of human error to occur when first setting up an automated process. Thus, thorough business analysis and process mapping is needed, as is a testing phase to make sure that the process works as intended. Exceptions will need to be captured and coded to refine the bot as well as ongoing change management to ensure that the bot is aware if/when a business process changes. Additionally, the possibility for disgruntled employees still exists and is exasperated by the fact that the process will automatically continue without user input.
Overall RPA can allow for a company to bridge the gap between the third and fourth industrial revolution and thus prepare for the future. RPA when coupled with AI will be the key technologies that will propel organisations through Digital Transformation (DX).
A future blog will look at deploying RPA in more detail including the most common processes considered in automation across different industry verticals and best practices for getting RPA right. As always, if you would like to discuss RPA and how your orgaisation may benefit from deploying a digital workforce please feel free to contact me.