With global skills shortages becoming more acute, robotic process automation, or RPA, may be an option to supplement workforces that are not at full capacity.

“A digital workforce is capable of working 24×7 and requires limited to no oversight, and can scale in response to growth with speed, agility, and resiliency,” writes Matt Norton, senior research analyst at Staffing Industry Analysts, in the “Introduction to Robotic Process Automation” report. “Meanwhile, traditional workers can shift attention to higher value, more strategic tasks.”

RPA technology emulates work that people could carry out and is best-suited for processes with repeatable, predictable interactions with IT applications. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, it can handle high-volume, repeatable tasks including queries, calculations and the maintenance of records and transactions.

Revenue among robotic process automation software providers grew 63.1% globally in 2018 to $846 million, making it the fastest-growing enterprise software market, according to Gartner Inc. North America represents a 51% share of the robotic process automation market, Western Europe had a 23% share, followed by Japan at 12.4%. The biggest industry adopters of robotic process automation software are banks, insurance companies, telcos and utility companies.

Not a physical robot. Although RPA includes the term “robotic,” it does not refer to a physical robot and the technology cannot entirely replace humans or replicate human cognitive functions; however, RPA can help all industries with common business process and activities that are not industry specific. Tasks commonly automated with RPA include data scraping, data entry, data validation, document and data extraction and document image capture. SIA’s report found the banking, financial services and insurance industry currently accounts for more than half of RPA use, followed by BPO services and manufacturing.

Those wanting to implement RPA should consider the following tactical considerations when evaluating the market or putting together an RFP:

  • Evaluate your business needs. Not all processes are suitable for RPA and, in order to assess suitability, organizations should conduct process maturity and RPA readiness assessments prior to implementation.
  • Build or buy? While there may be some advantages in developing solutions inhouse, it is doubtful firms could match the capabilities of specialized vendors.
  • Measuring performance and ROI. Set clear and well-written guidelines for how performance of the tool will be measured. Some potential metrics may be quantities (cost savings) while others may be qualitative (data and process quality, employee job satisfaction).
  • Stakeholder engagement and communication. Set up a steering committee comprising leaders of various business units as well as the CIO to implement RPA. Executive teams should also consider the wider impact of RPA on their workforce. An internal communication program must highlight the tangible impact automation can deliver to staff while actively assuring automation is to add value to rather than replace existing jobs.
  • Risk mitigation. Conduct a comprehensive review of RPA risk and maturity of risk management methods. Specific risk considerations should include data leakage and privacy, data traceability, cyber security as well as incident management. A risk framework should include strategic, regulatory, technological, operational and financial considerations while also noting sector-specific risks.

In addition to an overview of the market, current capabilities and trends, the full report includes a list of key vendors.