What Is Robotic Process Automation?

We’ve successfully avoided the robot revolution. But if classic Sci-Fi tropes have taught us anything, it’s that society is careening towards human extinction—and robots are at the helm of our imminent destruction.

But what’s fact vs. fiction? Is the robot uprising truly upon us? And what does it mean for accounting, finance, and compliance for today’s growing businesses?

Defining Robotic Process Automation

To manage this supposed threat, one must fully understand it. By definition, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is: “An application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aiming to automate certain business processes.”

By utilizing RPA technology, companies can configure software to capture and interpret applications for various tasks—meaning these “robots” emulate the actions of humans. They are built to integrate within digital systems and execute specific business functions like you and I would naturally do. These tasks are wide-spread but could include processing transactions and repetitive tasks such as manipulating data, triggering responses, high-volume data entry, and communicating with other digital systems.

In execution, RPA could essentially go from managing something as simple as generating automatic email responses to fully automating mundane, but necessary, business processes. Additionally, RPA is non-intrusive and leverages the existing technology infrastructure without causing disruption to underlying systems—both difficult and costly to replace.

And RPA isn’t tied down to one specific industry. Financial services, healthcare, retail, and human resources are just a few that are beginning to understand the benefits of RPA. It makes sense—businesses are trying to find ways to use automation technology to facilitate business processes without increasing headcount or costs, and an RPA software robot is work-ready 24/7, 100% compliant, and won’t ask for a salary increase.

Are Robots Replacing Us?

The simple answer is yes and no. RPA provides businesses with the ability to reduce staffing costs and human intervention and error—a benefit for most modern companies, but it has the potential to strip the current workforce of viable jobs that have been, up to this point, managed by living, breathing humans.

The RPA Pros Include:

  • Cost savings by reducing operational overhead
  • Simple implementation, requiring no custom software or deep systems integration
  • Promotes growth without adding significant expenditures
  • Increased capabilities with cognitive technologies such as machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language processing
  • Utilizing automation tools to complete tasks that in the past have required the perceptual capabilities of a human
  • Can mimic most human-user actions, including logging into applications, moving files and folders, copying and pasting data, filling in forms, extracting structured and semi-structured data from documents, scraping browsers, ect.

The RPA Cons Include:

  • Eliminating jobs, while companies embracing an RPA solution are attempting to transition many workers to new positions, Forrester Research estimates that RPA software might threaten the livelihood of around 9% of human workers and the global workforce

Which brings us back to our original question, are robots replacing us?

Yes, robots might be replacing us when it comes to managing and completing manual and sluggish processes. No, they won’t be rendering the workforce useless. It’s all in your “automation mentality”—by automating time-consuming, back-office processes, you’re freeing up your employees to focus on higher-level work. RPA is just the catalyst for your team to focus on bigger, strategic initiatives.

The RPA Market & Future of Finance

As Tipalti CEO Chen Amit stated in an interview with Information Age, “Companies have been trying to automate literally every angle of a company’s processes, but the automation of accounts payable has been left to last.”

Automation, in every sense of the word, is the future of business, and like Amit states, robotic automation will be expanding into all business functions, including finance and payments. We are in a digital transformation—FinTech itself is expanding outward to cover new fields such as RegTech (technology specifically meant to address complicated regulations), and RPA will be a key factor in the future success of our new, digital workforce.

This is just the beginning—RPA will not only be utilized to automate mundane business processes, but it will spur adoption and innovation in intelligent automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence—technology that can be trained to make judgments about future outputs.

There’s no mistake about it, Robots are here to stay. And the faster companies adopt RPA tools and RPA implementation, the faster they’ll create a competitive edge for their business. Sure, the Robot Wars of 2021 is a great film title, but our artificial friends aren’t starting a revolution—we’re directing them to help efficiently scale the business.

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