Updated: Nov 28
What is RPA?
Robotic process automation, or RPA, is a form of automation that will soon become commonplace in the business world. This form of automation records a series of actions taken by a user, and then uses software robots to repeat these actions quickly and accurately. This differs from traditional business automation, which would require a programmer to write a script and manually create a list of tasks to perform. RPA bots also emulate the actions of real users through the use of a virtual mouse and keyboard, allowing them to easily navigate different UIs.
More advanced RPA tools can include intelligent automation, or IA. These tools complement RPAs with things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural networks. These technologies allow for the software to act dynamically, handle more complex tasks, and complete tasks quicker and more efficiently.
What are its benefits?
Robotic process automation has been shown to be effective in reducing costs and improving efficiency by allowing the completion of high-volume repetitive tasks quickly and efficiently with no mistakes. In one IBM survey, 62% of people surveyed reported that RPA moderately or significantly reduced their company’s HR costs, and 72% of people surveyed reported that RPA moderately or significantly increased work accuracy. Employers have also found that RPA improves employee morale and job satisfaction by removing boring, mundane tasks from their workloads.
RPA services often offer a variety of security options. Using RPA bots prevents the risk of a human employee intentionally or unintentionally mishandling sensitive data, and the bots can be encrypted, lowering the chance of a malware breach. In addition, RPA apps usually offer detailed information about users who accessed the app, and every completed task, allowing businesses to easily root out anomalies.
Compared to traditional workflow automation, RPA has the benefits of not requiring a skilled programmer and being able to easily automate tasks that would be tricky to handle with scripting, such as filling out forms and dealing with UIs (user interfaces). An additional benefit of this is that RPAs don’t require you to change any existing systems, because RPAs are very flexible and can work on top of any number of existing applications.
What are its disadvantages?
As is the case with any automation technology, one of the biggest criticisms of RPA is the potential for job loss. Although many companies have promised not to lay off employees due to the adoption of RPA technologies, RPA has removed the need for low-level unskilled jobs as well as repetitive skilled jobs in large companies, especially in the fields of finance and customer care. However, this subject is surrounded by much debate. Proponents of RPA argue that most jobs replaced will be unskilled outsourced positions, and very few domestic jobs will be lost. Instead, they argue, companies will opt to redeploy their in-house workforce to achieve greater efficiency with the same number of employees.
There are also a variety of security risks associated with RPA technologies. The worst of these risks is the potential for RPA bots to be hijacked by malware. As mentioned above, RPA bots can be encrypted to lower this risk, but not all RPA providers offer this feature. This becomes even more problematic if the bots are given access to sensitive data. Hijacked bots could easily create a security breach. Even if the bots themselves are encrypted, vulnerabilities within the backend of the RPA system could allow access to company data and networks.
Large costs are associated with many RPA services. Cheaper services do exist, such as Microsoft Power Automate, which is free for individuals or can be licensed for $8-$20 per month, but these cheaper services are very limited in their abilities. Microsoft’s RPA software can only be used for simple tasks and only with Microsoft products. More powerful services often require hefty investments, sometimes costing several thousand dollars per user per year. One customer of a high-end RPA vender reported spending at least $250,000 just to buy the software and get it implemented. Speaking of getting the software implemented, RPA software is often complicated, and requires trained employees to use it correctly, which could add additional cost.
It seems clear that automation is the way of the future, but will RPA win out over traditional automation? It is hard to say. Although RPA is much more flexible and doesn’t require programming knowledge to use, the high costs associated with it limits its usability, especially for smaller companies. In the end, it is up to the companies to weigh the pros and cons of RPA, and determine the future of business automation.
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