When we think of Robots, we generally associate them with extremely meticulous and the heavy lifting kind of work such as defusing bombs, excavating mines, exploring shipwrecks, or performing a high precision hip bone replacement. In our stories, they have always been venerated like a powerful king.
However, 2014 saw quite a bit of buzz around Robotics Process Automation (RPA). RPA is defined as an enabler that allows configuring computer software to capture and interpret applications for transaction processing, manipulation of data, prompting responses and collaborating with related digital systems.
I acknowledge and agree with the growing importance of automation in differentiating BPO services. After all, value creation for clients is a crucial function of leveraging technology smartly. But, isn’t this entirely within the realm of 'automation'?
Da Vinci's grand vision of a Robot in human form, of walking mechanical lions, and string-powered cars have today been reduced to humble computers performing screen scraping, job scheduling, batch printing, and the likes. Why such a watered down role for something that its creator envisioned as 'knight in Italian-German armor'? Though conceived in 1495, today, BPOs are employing robots to perform their repetitive and mundane tasks under the name of "next gen solutions". So has this nickname been stretched too far?
Industrial-robots have been performing volume driven low-variation work on assembly lines in automotive, FMCG industry, etc. Later, digital-robots took on tasks that were previously reserved for humans. Today, IT processes offer automated services termed RPA.
So, what exactly is RPA? Is software a robot? Given that programing and managing robots is robotics, are coding engines and core operating systems also robotics? Does a digitized HR system metamorphose to an HR robot? Are they all robotic or regular IT systems with a new nickname?
If this nick name is to be extended to other fields of automation such as support automation, run-book automation, policy-based automation, or data center automation, then what do we get? Service Management Workflow Robot, Run-Book Robot or Policy-Manager Robot or Data-Center Robot? With an app for almost every materialistic desire, what do I call my friendly movie ticket booking app? Get-my-movie-robot?
But, aren't they still all about software? Let’s say – very smart software. Why say 'Robotics' to describe scores of new software solutions? Aren't they great at their true face value? My questions and forced analogies in this space can be endless, but certainly light.
RPA is a stronger wind of automation and can take the status of being a game changer for BPO in the next three years considering its pluses of being reasonable intelligence, pocket-friendly and sustainable; but this can sustain only until the next super-hero is announced.
Until that happens, are we reenacting the story of the Emperor's clothes? Joining the excited chorus in lauding what we cannot really see. While I continue to think creatively on how to facilitate RPA for my clients, every time I rave about what Processing-Expert Robots (or RPA for you) can deliver, I'll fear that little child in the audience who may just shout: "But the Emperor hasn't got anything on!"
Bill Huber, MD Alsbridge, once said: Several years ago, people made a similar case about the 'Cloud', a similarly imprecise term that serves as a metaphor for a variety of things. That is precisely the point. Despite the imprecise term, the 'Cloud' is dramatically changing how we do business. Similarly, "RPA" or just "robotics" represents a major inflection point for what we do. And, if a metaphor helps us to understand it and to draw attention to it, that is a positive.