Companies ramping up investments in robotic process automation

26 June 2019 4 min. read
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A recent report from consulting firm Protiviti finds that companies are gearing up their robotic process automation activities, with an average investment of $5 million in the fiscal year.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an increasingly popular technology which takes over repetitive and routine back office processes, doing the work more quickly, more accurately, and without human fatigue. RPA pulls error-prone humans out of mundane tasks like data entry – enhancing productivity, boosting accuracy, and freeing up people to do higher-level tasks.

RPA bots are trained to do a task by watching a user carry out the activity in a graphical user interface (GUI), afterwards performing the task automatically in the GUI. RPA can be further enhanced through the addition of machine learning, speech recognition, and natural language processing cognitive technologies.

According to a new survey, the efficiency-boosting tech is gaining steam, with average investment into RPA tagged at approximately $5 million, and the largest organizations spending as much as $10 million to $20 million annually. The Protiviti survey polled 450 executives across multiple regions and industries, with 78% from companies clearing $1 billion in annual revenues.

RPA delivers many benefits

Though many companies are in the early stages of RPA implementation, every surveyed company said they plan to expand RPA usage in the next two years.

Protiviti found that 32% were ahead of their competition in terms of RPA use (leaders); 41% were on par with others (intermediates); and 27% were behind the rest (beginners). Beginners are typically in the planning and experimenting stage, intermediates are in the planning, experimenting, and implementing stages, and leaders are in the implementing and maturing stages of RPA use.

Protiviti’s report projects that RPA leaders will be using bots in virtually every function in their organization within as little as two years. “Today, RPA is a lynchpin of sleek and agile operations that will fortify companies’ market positions by driving efficiencies, boosting speed to market, and bolstering financial performance,” said Tony Abel, a managing director at Protiviti.

RPA usage, particularly among leaders, has progressed furthest in the areas of IT management, marketing, process improvement, product development, and finance/accounting. The report predicts that the next two years will see deployment spread most rapidly in auditing and compliance, operations and supply chain management, and human resources management.

Impact on Productivity

In terms of industry deployment, financial services and TMT (technology, media, telecom) companies are the furthest ahead, while healthcare, consumer goods, and manufacturing organizations lag behind. Energy and utilities were the least mature in terms of RPA use, with only 9% at the maturing or advanced stages.

The top benefits noted by survey respondents were increased productivity (22%), better product quality (16%), strong competitive market position (15%), customer satisfaction (12%), and greater speed to market (11%). Cost-cutting was the lowest-ranking benefit (3%), emphasizing the idea that RPA is being deployed to add commercial value rather than to simply trim the fat.

"We see RPA as a huge driver of improved performance and efficiency," Prakash Mall, senior director of RPA and chat-bots at Target, said. "That correlates back to productivity gains, accuracy, and customer experience."

RPA can be used to improve customer experience by cutting down on stock outages by installing bots to automatically reorder stock when supply falls to a designated level – simultaneously freeing up more time for store managers to focus on customers.

Bots can also be used to extend the life of legacy IT systems, extracting data from various unconnected systems and then performing tasks the systems can’t do on their own.

RPA implementation, however, presents a host of challenges for organizations. Forty percent of respondents said an inability to prioritize potential RPA initiatives was a top obstacle, while 40% were concerned about cybersecurity, and 30% with regulation. A further 24% of executives cited a lack of available talent as a significant barrier.

In a tight labor market, RPA leaders are making a concerted effort to upskill existing employees (71%), partner with consultancies and tech providers (53%), and recruit new talent from outside (40%). Thirty percent of RPA leaders are also partnering or working with universities. In contrast to the wider respondent base, RPA leaders are more likely to take internal responsibility for RPA work, with only 3% outsourcing it to companies or individuals.

Related: Baker Tilly implementing efficiency-boosting RPA software from NICE