It’s hardly news that digital technology is reshaping the way we think, work and live, as companies large and small try to get any edge they can over the competition through increased efficiency and reduced labor costs. Emerging from within the world of automation technology is a form of software known as robotic process automation or RPA.
RPA can be installed on most digitally connected devices, including your laptop, desktop, or tablet. The software itself can stand alone on a single device or function on top of an organization's entire cloud environment. It doesn’t replace the applications you’re currently using; it works alongside your existing business processes.
This automation software functions in the form of “bots.” These are not physical robots or tiny spies within your computer. Instead, they are automated applications that run scripts through the internet.
RPA bots watch how humans complete digital tasks, and once they have adapted, the bots can replicate that task. Think of these bots as the antibodies of your immune system; they adapt until they are able to complete their function, and then go out en masse and get the job done. Once an RPA bot understands how to best complete a task, it can be copied over and over to function at scale within an organization. This process is called cloning.
Unlike antibodies, however, that are static and cannot adapt to new conditions, RPA bots are intelligent, meaning they will continue to learn and alter their processes, improving functionality over time.
The goal of RPA is to reduce the amount of human intervention necessary to efficiently execute repetitively structured tasks. Essentially, RPA automates tasks that we humans aren’t keen on doing. Tasks like data transfer can require days or even weeks of mundane hours, simply to move information from one platform to another. This type of work is easily automated with RPA, saving the employee and company time in the long run.
As this technology continues to advance and businesses start to automate more aspects of our work, what will be left for humans to do?
Most of us have seen the movies that portray robots as self-serving and a threat to humanity. Fortunately, the fear of automation and AI taking our jobs is unwarranted and arises merely from our preconceived notions about robotics in general.
RPA also works to retain jobs that otherwise would be allocated to companies overseas. Implementing RPA in a company is similar to outsourcing the work. However, RPA is able to complete monotonous job queues while keeping control of workflows within the company.
Although RPA removes humans from the process being automated, it still requires human interaction to function and run properly. RPA, like all software, needs to be consistently monitored, upgraded and tested. Since people are required to oversee RPA, new jobs focused on monitoring RPA will be created within a company that deploys it.
A study conducted by Forrester Consulting on the impacts of RPA, found that over 66 percent of employees believe RPA is restructuring jobs, not removing them. RPA will relieve humans of their repetitive, boring work, allowing them to focus on work that robots and artificial intelligence can’t do—the work that is knowledge-based, creative and strategic.
This software is intended to make our jobs and lives easier. With RPA, our work will change to become more value-driven and complex, yet we will feel less burnout at the end of the day. A chapter from “An Introduction to Contemporary Work Psychology” explains that employees can experience burnout from continuously completing redundant tasks, especially if the tasks are not thought-driven. Think of how much more productive our workdays could be without the stressors that cause physical and mental fatigue.
The Forrester study also concluded that RPA increases employee engagement. Without the weight of a heavy task load holding us back, we can find time to enjoy our day and engage with our co-workers. Think of how Jane in Accounting never joins your group for “Dining Out Day” because she has too much work on her plate. RPA can help Jane speed through those time-consuming, repetitive tasks so she too can enjoy Taco Tuesday. RPA has the ability to increase synergy, and in turn, improve company-wide morale.
When RPA is implemented in a company, it changes the way we work. Luckily, there is nothing to fear, because these robots aren’t going to replace us. They’ll function as virtual assistants, completing our monotonous tasks and leaving us with more time to focus on complex, stimulating work in our day-to-day jobs. As employee engagement goes up, and burnout goes down, our quality of life will ultimately be improved with the changes brought by RPA.