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Transformative Technology is defined as ”hardware- and software-based tools designed to enhance human psychological well-being, cognitive function and physical capabilities”.  

The question I have is, does RPA fall into this category?

While some people reading this may provide a quick answer to this question, as I have heard both sides of this passionate argument. I would like to take a deeper dive into the question and see where it leads.

When thinking about transformative technology people will quickly point to the cloud as the most recent example. The use of the cloud is nearly ubiquitous at this point.  Every person with a digital device of some sort is accessing and using the cloud constantly. Companies are using the cloud to stand up crucial systems and software applications. New ones are being designed with the cloud as a key component of the offering. Frankly, the cloud is not the “future” any longer, but it is the present.

When the cloud was first coming to be, the immediate concern was security. This worry certainly slowed its initial adoption. Companies like Microsoft (Azure/Office 360), Amazon (AWS), Google and Apple have done the most to ease these concerns and have made major financial commitments to cloud. At this point it is hard to imagine these companies being where they are now without their significant cloud offerings.

So where are we with RPA in 2020? That question is one I ask myself and other industry experts all the time.

The answer is not as straightforward as it seems. While I live and breathe RPA every day, I can honestly say I am guilty of being in an “echo chamber” of sorts. I was reminded of this fact last week when one of our new employees who has limited knowledge of RPA reminded me that MOST people have no idea about the technology.  She said for example we should; spell out the full-term “Robotic Process Automation” more frequently. In the same week I met with a relatively large insurance firm and they also were not aware of the technology but were immediately intrigued with its benefits. It’s a sobering thought that we are still at the beginning of its adoption even though RPA has existed in some form for over 50 years.

While some say that “RPA is dead” and will never be adopted widely. I agree with some parts of that argument. However, I think we need to analyze what are the “benefits” of RPA and to put it in proper context both presently and in the future.

Currently the adoption of RPA is nowhere near the potential levels that are being forecasted by the major research firms. That is a fact. The key word to look at is “potential.”. As an avid sports fan I am constantly reminded of athletes that had a ton of “potential” but never came close to the level they were predicted. RPA could eventually fall in similar category. Some of the current limitations of RPA are license costs, implementation expertise, and ongoing support. In addition, it requires quite a bit of planning and care to create sturdy and production ready bots. In addition, there are valid questions about how it can scale. Right now, it is being sold as a transformative technology but honestly, I feel it is not there “yet”.

If RPA is implemented properly and in a cost effective way it can return quite a bit of ROI to an organization. Our customers agree with this statement as they continue to build more bots and are using them to strategically support and grow their companies. That is valuable for sure. My feeling is in the near term those kinds of wins will be enough for most companies to adopt an automation strategy to in order stay competitive.and efficient. An argument can be made here that depending on the level of use and scope, RPA can be “transformative” for some companies but not all.

So, what will it take for RPA to be “transformative?” My quick answer is a “robot on every desktop“.

Is this a reality today, are the applications easy enough use for an average user?

We currently are commissioning a study around this exact topic with a prominent University. I am very interested to see if you can take people relatively unfamiliar with automation with minimal training and set them loose to create mini bots that can help them be more efficient?

The other thought expressed is that RPA can be used as part of larger transformation platform. One of the great values of RPA is the ability to use its tool set along with anything that can be developed  with other architectures (i.e. .NET Framework). . I continue to believe that the Orchestration of RPA, AI, ML and API centric applications is its greatest strength. My thought in 20202,  is RPA alone isn’t enough to be transformative. However, it can certainly be ubiquitous if used as part of a greater solution that leads to transformation.

Written by: Peter Camp, CTO & Founder, CampTek Software