What is Robotic Process Automation?
On December 1, 1913 Henry Ford's assembly line went live. This innovation reduced the time it took to build a car from 12 hours to roughly 1.5 hours, an 87.5% efficiency gain. This is one of the most famous paradigm shifts in modern history. Utilizing a standardized process + worker specialization + a motorized chassis helped the The Ford Motor Company roll out their 10 millionth Model T by 1924. By the 1940s, the VP of Manufacturing, Delmar Harder, formed Ford's first automation group, developing autonomous machines for use on the production line. Fast forward to today, almost no humans are seen on the assembly line as robotic systems were installed to relieve manual human labor and speed up production.
So what does this have to do with Robotic Process Automation?
Everything. But we still have more technology history to cover before we get there.
In the 1990's, this little thing called the internet and personal computers bursted onto the scene. Almost overnight, everyone had access to a terminal to find websites, data, illegally-sourced music (read: Napster), etc. A new wave of companies were created that capitalized on this technology shift. Mobile applications, SaaS, Platforms, Marketplaces became the new way of doing business over the internet. At this time, all non-tech companies were completely transformed. Email, enterprise applications, spreadsheets, online data storage became the new way that employees communicated, worked and processed data. They moved data on the software assembly line.
The advent of these new productivity tools created the first wave of automation or the motorized chassis, to stay true to this Henry Ford analogy. Everything started speeding up. People started moving data faster and faster with the use of ERP, CRM and standardized protocols.
The genesis of these new tools created a high-functioning, more efficient office.
Today there is a new wave of productivity tools that are revolutionizing how people interact with computers.
Enter stage right: Robotic Process Automation, or RPA. Simply put, RPA is code that can replicate the same work that people do on computers by interacting at the graphical user interface and/or API layer. These are essentially excel macros on steroids. These software bots can run through complex workflows at lightning speed.
These bots add immense value by working in your businesses everyday software applications. If you're a law firm, bots can do work in your case management system. If you're a healthcare company, bots can do work in your EHR system. If you're a sales organization, bots can streamline tasks in your CRM system. The possibilities are endless.
These software bots perform the same function like physical robots on the automotive assembly line. They perform work faster, cheaper and at perfect precision. But the main difference between physical robots and software bots is that software bots can scale much more rapidly. In order to increase capacity with software bots, it's as simple as copying the code base and deploying a new bot to handle the new workload, using the durability, elasticity and scalability of cloud computing.
Some of the activities that RPA bots can perform include:
- Read, write, and update any database or application
- Move data from one location to another
- Log into applications with no API, APIs, or a mix of both
- Interact with collaboration tools like email and messaging platforms
- Scrape data from any site
- Use advanced analytics and machine learning to make the right decision
- Extract and process content from documents, PDFs, emails and forms
- Perform mundane, repetitive tasks like copy/paste at scale
What does this mean for the future of work?
RPA fundamentally changes how we think about the human-computer relationship. Instead of people acting as computer operators, software bots become the operators, freeing up time for people to do more creative, value-add work.
People moving data across systems was an interim solution. Now that RPA is widely available, companies can build, deploy and support an army of bots to run their computer operations. Not only does this save money in the long run by reallocating human labor to higher ROI projects, but also lowers companies operating costs.
The invention of the assembly line created new possibilities in efficiency. As software continues to eat the world, RPA bots are moving people off of the business process assembly line. Just like people on Henry Ford's assembly line in 1913 were freed up to do less robotic work, people operating computers will be freed up to work on innovation, creation and solve higher-order problems.
About the Author
The Co-Founder and CEO of Thoughtful Automation, Alex Zekoff, has spent his career working with Fortune 50 clients developing streamlined processes, enterprise applications and software bots. Now he wants to bring this revolutionary technology to everyone with Thoughtful Automation's democratizing business model: Bots-as-a-Service.