Blended Synergy: The Balance of Automation & Expertise
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming an important innovation across many industries and is beginning to catch the attention of many supply chain professionals. The idea of robots in the workplace might conjure up likeable characters such as Rosie from the Jetsons, Vicky from Small Wonder, or Bender from Futurama. Or maybe you went directly to an image of a doomsday scenario where terminator-like robots take over the world and enslave mankind. Now that I have your imagination running wild, it might be a good time to take a step back and reset.
What is Robotic Process Automation? RPA is a malleable solution that leverages computer software and digital networks to manipulate data, process transactions, and execute defined activities across enterprise systems. See, nothing scary about that. RPA is particularly successful when applied across large labor pools responsible for executing high-volume, transactional functions, but the right solutions can have a positive impact regardless of the size of your labor pool.
RPA will significantly increase productivity by freeing up your most valuable assets to focus on delivering better products and solutions, moving your company forward. Robots don't make mistakes so your company will benefit from 100% accurate data. Data is becoming increasingly valuable and higher quality of work translates to better data, compounding value. Data allows you to make better decisions that impact how you operate, focus capital investments, scope of products and solutions, and position yourself in the marketplace. And, if you manage your customers' data, improved insight and visibility to their organization could lead to higher revenue streams.
RPA solutions differ by company because they reflect the unique demands on your business and how you deliver products and solutions to your customers. These solutions can assume various roles such as automating a highly repetitive task like retrieving documents, sending emails, or executing a definable process. Robots can also augment humans by reducing the time and effort it takes to gather information that requires human intuition and provide single-click execution. They can even assume a less conventional role to help reduce IT costs by assisting with repetitive system configuration, executing test scripts, perform audits or monitor system performance. Your options are limitless.
There are many RPA solutions in the industry and each has specific strengths and weaknesses. Understanding your company's business, technology, security, and financial requirements is critical to your selection process. Once you clear that hurdle, your focus should be on fully understanding how your business operates. At this point, you can't get too far into the weeds.
Understanding and untangling years or decades of business procedures can be complex, but improving a process is not just applying automation. You should challenge why the process is necessary, question how the process is accomplished, and understand who is executing the process. Making sense of your processes will help drive your RPA solution architecture, which will be very different for every company, and forms the foundation for success. Once architectural framework is identified, having the right people and disciplines to design, develop, and support solutions will have the greatest impact on long-term success. The biggest barrier to implementing new technology is overcoming resistance to change. Change is new and new is unknown, and humans don't do well with unknown. Our brains crave predictability, knowns, and constants.
History judges Johannes Gutenberg or Eli Whitney favorably because their disruptive technology changed the status quo in a dramatic way. Scribes were probably not wild about Gutenberg's printing press and laborers adept at picking cotton were not wild about Whitney's cotton gin, but does anyone today think the printing press or the cotton gin was a step back? At the time, those disruptive technologies caused real pain as they reduced the demand for skills in high demand.
Newness eventually becomes normalcy and order is restored. Eventually, robotic automation will be commonplace, and will ultimately assume its place in history when replaced by future technology. Until then, it is our job, our responsibility, to move technology and your company forward.