This title will probably seem provocative, and it is deliberate. Indeed, when it comes to RPA, we often hear opinions like “The robotization of processes is there only because of the lack of interoperability between applications: when companies will have been advanced in their digital transformation, these tactical tools will disappear.”
This opinion is interesting, and we can even say that it is partly true. However, because we have heard it for a long time and the facts are stubborn, it is also partly false. Here’s why, in the light of 15 years of existence of Contextor.
In an ideal world
If we lived in an ideal world, there would be no need for robots automating tasks or processes by replicating user actions. In a dream life, CIOs in large companies would have no budget constraints, nor time constraints: they could redesign the existing system and build a homogeneous and properly architected information system, harmoniously combining naturally interoperable applications. These applications would expose all the data they manipulate through standardized APIs, allowing any new application to consume the information they need very simply.
As a result, the implementation of new business processes would be quick and agile by assembling in a few clicks the necessary bricks. The “time to market” of the company’s new businesses would be reduced to a minimum, and would be counted in weeks if not days. Business leaders would thus have unlimited capacity for innovation, and would lavish laurel wreaths every day to IT managers to thank them for their support.
But, unfortunately, we do not live in this ideal world…
In the real life of large enterprises
Because in 2017, large companies have to manage millions of customers spread across different countries and continents. Their history, over several decades, has led them to build an information system that now includes several strata: the 1970s and 1980s were those of transactional applications mainframes, the 1990s to 2000 saw the deployment of client-server Windows applications, and since we have entered the 21st century, the era of SaaS and cloud applications with web interface began. These heterogeneous technologies each have their strong point, and they cohabit, as best as they can, in an information system that is certainly not perfect. But this IT has an immense quality: it does the job. It manages tens of thousands of complex transactions, serving millions of customers every day. And so nobody can take the risk of rebuilding it at once and from scratch, without even talking about budget and time issues.
The price to pay for this diversity in the information system is often the complexity of the desktop: users, whether in front-office or in back-office, must interact with dozens of applications to serve customers. And it is here, on the workstation of large companies, that process automation has appeared.
Contextor, who was one of the pioneers 15 years ago, is in a good position to talk about it. At the beginning, we were still talking about application wizards, but the basic functions of what is today called RPA were already there: copy and paste data from one window to another to avoid re-typing, launch a query in an application and retrieve the result, compare and verify information from two applications…
By automating to the maximum these tedious and non-value-added tasks, the RPA releases 15% to 30% of the user’s time, or even more for some back-office processes that can be fully automated. From then on, the human being can devote himself to actions leveraging his sense of the customer relation and improving the quality of the service, with a better respect of the procédures. The ROI of RPA is not in months or years, but in weeks. Another contribution of the RPA: it improves the working comfort of employees. Is this not an essential prerequisite if they are to be embarked in the strategy of digital transformation of the company?
How sustainable is RPA?
So, yes, we agree on this point: RPA is a tactical tool, which exists only because the information systems of large companies are complex. On the other hand, we are convinced that this complexity will not disappear with a magic wand. In any case, for 15 years that we exist, we have never witnessed such a miracle 🙂
From that, let us be humble and consider RPA for what it is, in its positive aspect: RPA is an effective solution to engage enterprises digital transformation, bringing real and measurable benefits with rapid and proven ROI.
Rendez-vous in 10 years to talk about that again?
PS : If you want to explore the benefits that RPA can bring to your business, feel free to contact us for more information, or even to launch a PoC!
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