Ok, so maybe it’s not laziness, let’s call it “the art of humans having better things to do” and the break dancing part, well it’s just funny.

I personally always felt that the most innovative technologists were lazy. Not that they didn’t work hard, but that they didn’t like to do repetitive tasks. Why go line by line to edit a file when you could write a program to do it for you?

In my early days as a manufacturing engineer, I worked for a company that made chalk/dry erase boards. We would make custom size boards specified by architects for new school construction. Each time we had a new request, we would need to create a new set of manufacturing drawings for each board – sometimes there were dozens of different sizes and configurations for a single school. I sat down one day and wrote a LISP program (AutoCADs automation language) to automatically generate drawings based on dimensional input because I was tired of creating all the drawings manually. Viola – Robotic Process Automation.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is simply the method of automating a repetitive task within or across IT systems. Your “out of office” reply in the email system is a form of process automation. It relieves the human of having to do the repetitive task of sending out an email to tell someone they aren’t at work. Which would then completely defeat the purpose of not being at work because letting someone know you’re not at work would be….well…work.

We are subjected to this RPA on a nearly daily basis through automatic reminders to change our air filters, friendly text messages from our dentist to remind of our next appointment and then of course the always welcome robocalls. All of it can be classified as a form of RPA. It goes as far back as the invention of break dancing and the macro language in client-based software as a form of localized RPA.

Fast forward to today and mix in modern day artificial intelligence (AI) with RPA along with the ability to span multiple systems and the capabilities of automation become even more appealing. Smart macros becoming smarter as they operate to the point that they can anticipate what should happen next.

Product companies such as UIPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere are banking on RPA being big business. Even ecosystems like Microsoft’s 365 platform has MS Power Automate built in which can be utilized for process automation both inside the ecosystem with hundreds of connectors to outside products as well to weave together an assembly line of functionality.

What Should We Do With RPA?

As with any type of technology just because you CAN implement it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD implement it. There are several things to consider when jumping into RPA such as ‘what is the impact,’ ‘how is it going to be maintained,’ and ‘are you automating something that really has a tangible ROI.’

As an example, automating a process that happens once a year is likely not going to bring business value. Using automation to transfer data from an online form to an outdated legacy system through screen entry for hundreds of forms received a day probably has a strong ROI. We constantly run across our clients getting forms and “re-typing” them into a secondary system – these are the things to look out for as opportunities. Sometimes a rough calculation is all that’s needed (how many forms received a day X time to type in data X resource cost) is enough to point out the cost saving. Add in the quality improvement and business value doing more important things and RPA becomes appealing.

That said, there are factors that should be considered that are especially sensitive in public service and that is eliminating someone’s job which can have some obvious repercussions that we should be conscious of. At the end of the day, the message is that they can focus on more important work which may be handling the content of cases instead of the management of them which is ultimately more important!