Thinking beyond Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

In my previous blog I concluded by saying, “In the new order of priority, automation is the way to empower people and move up the value chain.”

Continuing from there, the good news with anything that is good is that improvement is almost always round the corner.

Take Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for instance. It comes with the goodness of low cost, scalability, and the capability to process data at speeds that are far better than humanly possible.

However, RPA lacks cognition. RPA can only replicate pre-programmed, pre-configured commands and actions. And, in doing so, runs the inevitable risk of error magnification. Because RPA lacks the cognitive ability, it can, by way of repetition, amplify errors to the point where they become unmanageable and counterproductive.

The other limitation of RPA is that it is unable to read non-electronic, unstructured data inputs. This means, if you are trying to digitize paper-based documents, you would have to deploy other software and technologies that can work in tandem with RPA to scan documents before they can be processed using RPA.

This means evaluation, purchase, and implementation of a bridge software or technology that must be compatible with RPA and any other software that you may be currently using to digitize and structure data in a format that RPA can process.

Another drawback that one needs to be aware of is that RPA cannot read data that is disparate or in multiple formats. It will only read and process data in the one format that it has been trained to do. This can be extremely problematic and even unviable for, let’s say, a human resources department that wants to scan and shortlist hordes of CVs of candidates on the basis of a certain skill or pre-qualification or a pre-determined number of years of experience. RPA simply cannot do this because all the CVs would be in different formats and RPA is not suited to scan, read and process information that is in different formats.

The next time you click on a link to apply for a job and that link takes you to an elaborate and rather cumbersome form that contains multiple fields, dropdown menus, and restrictive formatting that feels like a labyrinth, and you are wondering why they just can’t let you upload a CV instead; this could probably be why.

A finance department would encounter a similar sort of challenge with RPA because for RPA variety is obviously not the way to go. Invoices submitted by vendors are often in so many different formats with relevant data fields to be found in varied places of the document. Invoices may also contain multiple line items. For RPA to read and process information of this nature, it must be in the exact same format with relevant data fields in the exact same spot. The only workaround to this would be to first determine and design a standard invoice format and then get all vendors and suppliers to toe the line by submitting their respective invoices in the same format. As impractical, long-drawn, and inefficient as this may sound, several organizations have actually designed and implemented these sorts of workarounds. In effect, it defeats the very purpose of automation and is counterproductive to cost and efficiency. Not to mention the nightmarish exercise that has to be undertaken each time a new vendor is on board or there is a process change.

All in all, RPA is a great tool to have in your armory if you are looking to increase productivity by automating routine tasks based on a set or sets of pre-defined rules. However, if you are looking for value that is to be gained by learning from experience, and not merely the power of voluminous repetition, you must look and think beyond RPA.

About the Author:

Bellinda D’Souza, Co-founder, and Chief Growth Officer, Finance Tech Unlimited.

Bellinda is a marketing professional with 20+ years of experience in content, B2B, and B2C marketing. As part of her role, she has been championing technology offerings for B2B and B2C target segments through her proficiencies of Digital and Non-digital platforms. She is passionate about AI and its possibilities to empower and offer a wide range of solutions, especially when combined with human brilliance.

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