When you think of how robots should improve business operations, robotic process automation (RPA) probably checks all the boxes.
That's because RPA does exactly what its name implies: it takes a robotic, repetitive process and automates it. When applied correctly, RPA programs reduce your labor costs, boost your efficiency and enable your employees to focus on more impactful, strategic work.
But there's a catch. RPA on its own is a relatively limited solution: it's pure automation, without the support of intelligent oversight. Its benefits are therefore restricted to the particular task it's assigned, and it often requires a human babysitter — nullifying the promised benefits of efficiency.
The solution? Add a level of intelligence to RPA.
Though it's not perfect, RPA is still a great solution for specific use cases. RPA refers to software that automates low-level processes and workflows, which you can train to follow a set of predetermined steps to accomplish a manual task. This type of program is great for menial tasks that always follow the same structure, like pulling data from invoices and entering it into your ERP system.
The benefits of robotic process automation are fairly self-evident because they're the advantages you would expect to see from top-notch automation programs:
In fact, a great benchmark for RPA is that a typical bot can do the work of five to ten humans.
On a fundamental level, RPA is perfectly suited to optimizing and digitizing certain business processes. It can do manual tasks exponentially faster, with fewer errors, without requiring the cost of a human worker dedicated to that low-level task.
To benefit from RPA, you need a clear understanding of what RPA can do — and what it can't. It's crucial to understand that RPA programs do not use artificial intelligence.
The benefits of robotic process automation are therefore limited:
If you're in IT and an application crashes for one of your coworkers, RPA can help you respond, but it still needs you to be involved.
Your coworker would fill out a ticket, which gets manually assigned to a support team. Your team responds to it when available, but typically needs to reach out to the original user for context. You identify the issue, go to the app, make changes, restart it and fix the issue. It's entirely manual and far slower than it needs to be.
Your coworker fills out a ticket, which is automatically assigned to a team. Your team still needs to respond and investigate, but they can then leverage an RPA program to automate the resolution process itself.
There are two issues here. First, your team's job may be easier, but you've only achieved partial automation. Second, you need to train and program the RPA in the first place for it to know how to resolve the issue.
To truly capitalize on the benefits of robotic process automation, you need to overcome its primary challenge: RPA programs focus on automation without intelligence, so humans often have to step in.
The solution is simple: add artificial intelligence to RPA. The combination of AI and RPA is best known as IPA, or intelligent process automation.
With IPA, you can take the benefits of RPA to the next level:
IPA doesn't just solve for the shortcomings of RPA. It also redoubles the benefits of RPA. For instance, true independence leads to more efficiency and saved costs because humans trust the program to run on its own.
Let's look at the same example. Unlike RPA, IPA greatly reduces the amount of human involvement required to resolve a help desk ticket.
A fully integrated IPA program can hook up to your ticketing system or any other request channels, receive and read tickets and understand the contents of messages via intelligent processes like natural language processing. It identifies the required actions to confirm, evaluate and resolve the issue.
If the issue falls into a known category, the IPA program then triggers a workflow to solve that issue — essentially, it plugs it into an RPA program. If the issue is unknown, the program forwards it, alongside all analysis and investigation that it's already performed and a set of recommended solutions, to a human agent.
A human is only required at the very end of this process, and only for outlier cases. Moreover, that final decision-making is a far more intelligent and rewarding use of the human's time than common, low-level issue resolution. Best of all, the program learns as it goes, becoming more independent as it gains experience.
The key here is that the time saved in this process frees up your team to reinvest their time into strategic work. In this way, IPA elevates the benefits of RPA: while IPA can do the work of multiple humans just like RPA, it doesn't eliminate those humans — it simply enables them to do more intelligent, interesting work.
The benefits of robotic process automation promise to digitally transform your business operations. After all, RPA is great at automating tasks to increase efficiency. Unfortunately, that's all it can do — so the true benefits often fall short.
IPA addresses that issue. It's RPA as it should have been, automation that's intelligent as well as efficient.
Of course, if you already have an RPA program installed, you need to find an IPA vendor that works with, rather than against, that program. The best IPA vendors will work with you to augment your RPA processes rather than replace them, because the automation of IPA is fundamentally based on RPA principles. They'll also collaborate to ensure the IPA program is implemented correctly and delivering against target business outcomes.
Looking for more information on the benefits of intelligent automation? Check out our report on automation:How AI-Powered Automation Is Transforming Business Operations.