Disruptive technology explained – RPA

Disruptive technology explained – RPA

From the AiM Next Generation Technologies team.

What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

It’s unlikely that when you were 8 years old, your dream was to have a career entering figures into an invoicing tool, printing, sending and filing those invoices, and what’s more, have this activity consume half of your weekday working life, but for many, that’s exactly what will happen. Okay, it may not be invoicing software, it might be a stock control tool, patient booking system, or any other system which requires repetitive actions.

Now I may be hopeful here, but when a boss says “I’d free you up to do more imaginative tasks, but this needs to be done”, I believe them; after all, Bob Cratchit’s role still largely exists in the 21st century – it’s just that the quill has been replaced by a keyboard. So these tasks need to be done.

But wait, it appears that the world isn’t flat and things do change. Help is at hand in the form of robotic process automation, or RPA for short. RPA is a clever way of using software to perform virtually any rules-based task, including my invoicing process. It can do this simply by observing the process in action, and following the same steps but at a much faster rate than a person, twenty or more times faster, and with the bonus of fewer errors. RPA is a process driven tool, whereas machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI) are data driven, but it’s possible to combine them to get a machine to learn the rules behind a process (ML) and then do it (RPA). Genius…

All well and good I hear you say, but this is my job, and if some shiny box can come in and do it more accurately and quickly, then I’m out of that job. A good point, but probably not, although that will depend of course on your job. For instance, if you’re a lawyer who frequently has to review NDAs, a laborious and time consuming task, potentially taking you away from other more challenging fee earning activities, having an intelligent RPA tool to do this for you is a bonus. And even at a lower level, completing repetitive tasks does not constitute all the tasks involved in a job; after all, invoicing is never clear cut and discussions are needed between clients and suppliers. And health centre receptionists don’t just book appointments, they’re more and more the front line, using uniquely human skills to help patients in ways a machine cannot.

So maybe we don’t need to fear the coming of RPA, but instead embrace the possibilities it offers.


Interested in reading more on disruptive technology? Click here for our blog on disruptive technology in the Legal industry.